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HC rejects SEC order restraining Minister

Topics Covered: Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.

HC rejects SEC order restraining Minister:


Context:

Andhra Pradesh State Election Commissioner (SEC) had ordered that Panchayat Raj & Rural Development Minister Peddireddy Ramachandra Reddy be confined to his residence till February 21 to prevent him from vitiating the process of gram panchayat elections.

  • However, this order has been struck down by the High Court.
  • The Minister has argued in the court that the impugned action was beyond the jurisdiction of the SEC and in violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

Powers of the State Election Commissioner in this regard:

The SEC, in its order, said it was invoking its plenary powers under Article 243K of the Constitution and directing the DGP to “confine” the Minister to his residential premises until the completion of the local/gram panchayat elections.

About the State Election Commission:

The Constitution of India vests in the State Election Commission, consisting of a State Election Commissioner, the superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for, and the conduct of all elections to the Panchayats and the Municipalities (Articles 243K, 243ZA).

The State Election Commissioner is appointed by the Governor.

  • As per article 243(C3) the Governor, when so requested by the State Election Commission, make available to the State Election Commission such staff as may be necessary for the discharge of the functions conferred on the SEC.

The ECI and SECs have a similar mandate; do they also have similar powers?

The provisions of Article 243K of the Constitution, which provides for setting up of SECs, are almost identical to those of Article 324 related to the EC. In other words, the SECs enjoy the same status as the EC.

  • In Kishan Singh Tomar vs Municipal Corporation of the City of Ahmedabad case, the Supreme Court directed that state governments should abide by orders of the SECs during the conduct of the panchayat and municipal elections, just like they follow the instructions of the EC during Assembly and Parliament polls.

How far can courts intervene?

Courts cannot interfere in the conduct of polls to local bodies and self-government institutions once the electoral process has been set in motion.

Article 243-O of the Constitution bars interference in poll matters set in motion by the SECs; Article 329 bars interference in such matters set in motion by the EC.

  • Only after the polls are over can the SECs’ decisions or conduct be questioned through an election petition.
  • These powers enjoyed by the SECs are the same as those by the EC.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Article 243 vs 324, similarities and differences in powers of state election commissions vs Election Commission of India.
  2. Appeals against decisions of Election Commissions.
  3. Elections to Parliament and state legislatures vs Local Bodies.
  4. Difference between powers of Election Commission of India vs State Election Commission.

Mains Link:

Are the State Election Commissions in India as independent as the Election Commission of India? Discuss.

Sources: the Hindu.