Thursday, November 19, 2015

Gujarat election panel "failure" to upload candidates' affidavits: Petition seeks local body polls quashed

Roshan Shah
By Our Representative
The Gujarat Nagrik Sanghathan, a civil rights organization of Ahmedabad, has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) with the Gujarat High Court, strongly objecting to the State Election Commission’s failure to make public details of candidates, fighting forthcoming local body poll, regarding their criminal antecedents, assets, debts, educational qualifications etc.
The petition says, the failure to provide these details is taking place despite the SEC order dated June 28, 2011, which states that such information “is required to be supplied by filing an affidavit, sworn on oath and stamp paper, and the same is required to be submitted to the returning officer by the candidate concerned.”
The petition comes about a week after the well-known national election watchdog, Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), asked SEC chairman Dr Varesh Sinha to immediately upload the affidavits of the candidates contesting Gujarat local body elections on the SEC “for dissemination of information to voters.”
An ADR letter to Sinha, also signed by those representing Gujarat Election Watch, the state wing of the National Election Watch (NEW), a congregation of over 1,200 civil society groups across the country, said, this should be done “on the lines of Parliamentary and Assembly elections.”
Pointing out that the SEC has not been wanting candidates to fulfill this requirement with “due seriousness”, the petition, filed through advocate KR Koshti, claims, “Several instances come to fore where candidates have suppressed or furnished wrong or misleading information stating wrong facts in their affidavits before the returning officer.”
The petition recalls that the SEC has the “same powers and authority which is available to the Election Commission of India under Article 324 of the Constitution”. It adds, it is therefore its “legal duty” to conduct the election “in free, fair and unbiased manner” with a view to maintain “the purity of democracy”.
The petition follows political activist Roshan Shah of the Gujarat Nagrik Sangathan representing before the SEC on October 26, 2015 seeking information about the past affidavits of the elected candidates of the years 2005-2010, and upload them on its website. Yet, the petition says, “No reply has been received by the petitioner.”
The petition says, all this suggests that the process of local elections to the local self-governing bodies – municipal corporations, municipalities and panchayats – is “not free, fair and unbiased”, and the SEC “is not discharging” its duty independently.
The petition contends, the SEC is not complying by Section of the 33-A of the Representation of the People Act, which provides right to information to people about candidates, nor is it carrying out any awareness campaign among the voters on the use of None of the Above (NOTA) button, despite the High Court order on it on October 30.
Based on these facts, the petition, calling the SEC a “puppet” in hands of the ruling party, has that pleaded the entire election process to be “quashed in the interest of justice”, wondering how could the voter “decide” to cast his or her vote “in favour of a candidate who is involved in a criminal case”.

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