Setback to AIADMK as court bars local body polls

Ramaswami Sampath

Ramaswami Sampath

The grand plan of the ruling All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) to sweep the civic and local-self government elections, taking advantage of the weak position of the opposition parties, received a setback when the Madras High Court annulled the September 26 notification of the State Election Commission (SEC) on October 4. The SEC’s bid to get the court order stayed by appealing to a two-judge division bench drew blank, as the bench did not favour staying the single judge order.

The single judge order was on a petition by the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam seeking adequate reservation for Scheduled Tribe candidates in the election. Justice N. Kirubakaran, explaining the rationale of his order setting aside the election scheduled to be held in two phases on October 17 and 19, said the SEC notification on September 26 announcing the poll schedule was not in compliance with Rule 24 of the TN Panchayat (Election) Rules of 1995.

The judge had also noted that there was an “unwarranted hurry” in the issue of the election notification, which provided no level-playing field for the opposition parties to fight the elections. The judge did not agree with the SEC contention that since the five-year terms of various civic and panchayat bodies would end by this month-end, there would be a vacuum if the elections were not completed by then, and said that these local self-government bodies could be run by appointing special officers until the election outcome.

The SEC in its appeal before the division bench had contended that once the poll process had been announced, no court could intervene. But judges Huluvadi G. Ramesh and R. Partiban pointed out that the poll process had already been disrupted by the single judge’s order and also by keeping in abeyance of the process by the commission itself. Hence, it directed the SEC to issue a fresh notification and complete the election process by December 31 this year as indicated by the single judge.

The irony is that the setting aside of the election process came close on the heels of the last date for filing of nominations for various wards in rural and urban civic bodies. As on October3, the original date for closing of nominations, nearly three lakh candidates had filed their nominations for 1.31 lakh posts across the State. As scrutiny of the nominations was set for October 4, the single judge order annulled the election process. Consequently, the model code of conduct that came into force with the notification has also been abandoned.

While the AIADMK leadership is crest-fallen over the court intervention, leaders of opposition parties are delighted that they will have some breathing space before the next notification is issued. DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi, said in a statement: “Since the State Election Commission and the State Government announced the dates for election without giving adequate time for the opposition, they (opposition parties) had to select their candidates overnight. Now the court order has given them time for campaign and election work.” The other opposition party leaders also welcomed the court order, stating that justice had at last prevailed

There are 12 municipal corporations, including the Chennai Municipal Corporation, 148 municipalities and 561 town panchayats in Tamil Nadu. The rural local bodies include 12,620 village panchayats, 385 panchayat unions and 32 district panchayats. As many as 1.18 lakh posts in rural local bodies and 12,820 posts in urban local bodies have to be filled by direct elections.

There is 50 per cent reservation for women candidates this time, a step towards empowering the fair sex. For the first time in 44 years, Chennai Corporation will have a woman mayor. The other corporations to have women mayors are Vellore, Salem, Coimbatore, Thanjavur and Dindigul. Tiruchirapalli, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi, Tirupur and Erode are the other corporations under the general category.

The Government recently amended the TN Panchayat and Civic Bodies Act, dispensing with the direct election of mayors and deputy mayors of cities, chairpersons and their deputies of municipalities and chiefs and deputy chiefs of panchyat bodies — a practice that had been in vogue for nearly two decades. The newly elected councilors of corporations, municipalities and panchayat bodies will have to elect these chiefs unanimously or by secret ballot.

      (The writer is a senior journalist and associated with Primepost)

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