By Amba Charan Vashishth
The present terms of the five state assemblies of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puduchery are expiring in May-June this year and the Election Commission (EC) of India was duty bound to hold elections before that. The preliminary preparations in that direction had already been set in by EC.
In the normal course, the EC had been clamping the model code of conduct, in which the governments could not do anything at public cost to influence the voter.
Yet, the EC was condescending to allow the UPA present the railway budget and the general budget, which were centric to the States going to the polls. The EC announced the poll schedule within twenty-four hours of the presentation of the General Budget in parliament!
For the past over a decade, it had been customary for the EC to time the holding of bye-elections to vacant seats in State assemblies and Lok Sabha with the schedule of elections to any State assembly.
Section 151A of the Representation of the Peoples’ Act 1951 stipulates that “a bye-election for filling any vacancy…shall be held within a period of six months from the date of the occurrence of the vacancy” in the Lok Sabha or the State assembly. This is a mandatory obligation of EC.
On March 1, 2011 the EC announced the poll schedule for general elections to the assemblies in the five States. Their term was expiring on May 16, 2011 in Tamilnadu, on May 23 in Kerala, on May 28 in Puducherry and Assam and on June 11 in West Bengal.
The election process in these States will conclude well before the expiry of their assembly’s term with the counting and announcement of results on May 13 and formal notification of the constitution of the newly elected assemblies.
EC flouts law
Later, on March 12, EC also announced the bye-elections schedule for the three casual vacancies in the Karnataka State assembly with polling to take place on April 9 and the counting on May 13 together with other States.
As per the EC Press Note the by-poll for these three assembly constituencies of 185- Chennapatna, 103- Jagalur (ST) and 147-Bangarapet (SC) has to be completed before April 13, April 18 and April 19, 2011 respectively. The EC has technically and perfunctorily performed its duty to hold the polling within six months, yet the fact remains that it has failed to discharge its legal and constitutional obligation to implement in letter and spirit the provisions of Article 151A which stipulates filling “ any vacancy…within a period of six months from the date of the occurrence of the vacancy”
The conduct of the EC implies that although polling will be over on April 9, yet the seats shall continue to be vacant even beyond six months expiring on April 13, 18 and 19, respectively. The election process would, in their case, be completed only on May 13 when the result is declared, almost one month more than the stipulated six month period. Thus, the seats shall not be filled “within a period of six months from the date of the occurrence of the vacancy”. In the process, the provisions of the Section 151A stand violated at the hands of the EC.
Prevaricates in Andhra
The matter does not end here. The story in Andhra Pradesh is no different. As per the past practice, the announcement for holding election to fill casual vacancies in the Andhra Pradesh State assembly caused by the resignation of Mrs. Vijaylakshmi, wife of late chief minister YSR from Pullivendula assembly seat and the parliamentary seat vacant by the resignation of Jagan Mohan Reddy from the Kadapa parliamentary constituency, both accepted on November 29, 2010, too should have been made to coincide with the general elections to five State assemblies and the bye-elections to three assembly constituencies in the neighbouring Karnataka State. The mystery why this has not so far been done remains unexplained.
It is true that six month period has not elapsed since the assembly and parliamentary constituency vacancies occurred in Andhra Pradesh but by the time the electoral process in the current assembly elections will be over, it would be more than five months since the seats fell vacant.
Was the delay in inadvertent or deliberate and who will derive electoral and political benefit from the delay is anybody’s guess. But the fact remains that to perform its obligation as per the provisions of the Constitution and the election law, the EC will have in between to announce, in a huff, the election schedule for Andhra bye-elections too.
The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst and commentator