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Supreme Court to hear Tamil Nadu election body plea for more time to hold polls in 9 new districts

Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi replied the State government’s workforce was busy with the Assembly elections in February and March, and later, with Covid-related work.

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The Supreme Court will continue its hearing on Monday in a plea filed by the Tamil Nadu State Election Commission (TNSEC) seeking some more time to complete the election process to the local bodies in the nine-newly carved districts of the state, Kancheepuram, Chengalpattu, Vellore, Thirupathur, Ranipet, Villupuram, Kallakurichi, Tirunelveli, and Tenkasi.

The TNSEC filed its application in a matter filed by S. Shankar, who had previously filed a PIL on conducting the local body polls. On September 20, the Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ramana had granted two days time to Senior Advocate P. Wilson to file its reply on the application filed by TNSEC.   

Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the State Election Commission, had apprised the bench that the process could not be completed on time as per the Courts earlier directions due to Covid-19 pandemic reasons. To which the Court took strong objections and said, “The government can do anything it wants to do. But whenever the issue of local bodies elections come up, they say, no, no.”

Rohatgi replied the State government’s workforce was busy with the Assembly elections in February and March, and later, with Covid-related work. Then, the Court had sought the response of the petitioner Shankar to file his response on a plea by SEC within two days. The Bench, which also comprised Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, had also taken on record the notification issued on 13/09/2021 by the Secretary to the Tamil Nadu State Election Commission. 

The bench had also noted, “We grant extension of time till 15th September, 2021 to complete the entire process including publication/notification of election schedule and the result thereof before 15th September, 2021 as the Constitutional mandate to conduct elections in the time bound manner cannot be defeated in this manner.” 

In its plea the State Election Commission had submitted that the Government may require atleast two months time for completing these formalities as a minimum six weeks notice period is required for altering the boundaries of existing local bodies. On receipt of the Government orders, the Statutory activities as required under Article 243R of the Constitution of India viz., Delimitation of Wards in the proposed Corporations and Municipalities will have to be carried out by the Delimitation Commission by engaging the Heads of Departments and Employees of Local Bodies concerned. Thereafter, the Reservation of Wards / Divisions to various categories has to be carried out as mandated under Article 243T of the Constitution of India. Consequently, Electoral Roll of each ward so delimited afresh, in the newly formed Corporations and Municipalities has to be prepared based on the current Assembly Electoral Roll used for the Assembly Elections, 2021 as envisaged in rules 15 to 20 of the Tamil Nadu Town Panchayats, Municipalities and Corporations (Election) Rules, 2006. 

Thereafter, for identification and publication of polling stations commensurate with the strength of voters in a particular ward, preparation and publication of electoral roll and printing of photo electoral rolls have to be prepared for which 95 days are required. The Number of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) to be used will be around one lakh and they have to be undergone First Level Checking (FLC) by the Technical Team of Bharat Electronic Ltd., Bengaluru.  In this connection, BEL has been requested on 05.08.2021 to organise a schedule for First Level Checking (FLC) and the BEL replied that they are ready to deploy Engineers.  This exercise willrequire 75 days for its completion.  Simultaneously, other activities like randomization of EVM, mobilization of polling personnel, procurement of polling materials, printing of forms and other statutory activities will also be carried out and completed and therefore this applicant Commission needs minimum of 7 (seven) months time from 15th September 2021, to complete the entire election process in tune with statutory obligations, stated in the plea. 

In terms of prayer (a) Rohatgi submitted extension of time to seven months is not required as the elections are underway. In view of that the Court had rejected the said prayer as became infructuous. The matter is limited to now extension of some more time to complete the Election Process. 

The Supreme Court had on June 22 directed the Tamil Nadu State Election Commission to conduct and declare the results of Local Bodies (ward and office) elections in nine districts by September 15.

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