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Supreme Court Rejects TMC's Plea to Postpone Tripura Local Body Polls, Issues Guidelines

The top court said that law enforcement agencies must discharge their duties in an even-handed and non-partisan manner to obviate the grievances of the petitioners.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC)’s plea to postpone local body polls in Tripura, which will be held on November 25, saying such a move would only be a matter of “last and extreme recourse”. However, the top court issued additional guidelines to ensure that the elections are conducted in a peaceful manner.

According to LiveLaw, a Supreme Court bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Vikram Nath said that in its “considerate view”, the apprehensions expressed by the petitioners can be redressed by issuing directions to Tripura to ensure that the remaining phases of municipal elections take place in a “safe and secure manner”.

The bench said that reports of law and order have been drawn to the attention of enforcement agencies, which will have to ensure that these are dealt with in accordance with the law.

“Postponing elections is an extreme thing to order in a democracy and we are averse to it. If we do it then it will set a wrong precedent,” observed the bench.

However, the order also noted that the state’s director general of police (DGP), inspector general of police (IGP) and home secretary are duty-bound to assuage “any misgiving about the fairness of the law enforcement machinery in supporting the electoral process”.

“The law enforcement agencies must discharge duty in [an] even-handed and non-partisan manner to obviate the grievances that the candidates and supporters of [TMC] are unfairly targeted by contesting political groups,” the order says.

The TMC had filed a plea after accusing the police of inaction when some of its candidates were forced to withdraw their nominations for the local body polls – allegedly under pressure from BJP workers. The main opposition party in the state, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), had also made a similar allegation against the police.

The Supreme Court on November 11 had asked the Tripura government to ensure that there is a “free and safe atmosphere for political campaigning for the local body elections”. The court was on Tuesday hearing a contempt petition filed by the TMC and its Rajya Sabha MP Sushmita Dev, alleging non-compliance on the part of Tripura authorities, according to LiveLaw.

According to the Indian Express, the apex court asked the Tripura DGP and IGP to hold a joint meeting with the state election commissioner by Wednesday morning. During the meet, they need to assess the availability of Central paramilitary forces to oversee peaceful conduct of the polls.

“The DGP and IGP shall take all steps to ensure the election is conducted without disruptions, especially on the day of polling and counting,” the order notes, according to IE.

The bench also took note of the TMC’s contention that the police was not lodging FIRs against people who were attacking its cadre. The court asked the government “to submit a tabulated data on complaints made, steps taken and if FIR has been registered”.

According to LiveLaw, senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, appearing for the TMC, had submitted at the beginning of the hearing that even after the court’s direction, the “security situation in Tripura has worsened” and the party’s workers were still being attacked, giving the example of the attack on TMC member Shahini Ghosh during campaigning. Despite being the target of an attack, a criminal case was registered against her, he submitted.

“Political workers are being driven out. Kindly consider how much effect will it have on voters. Will the voters come out? We are asking for a committee of observers,” Gupta said, asking that the court consider the possibility of postponing the elections.

Senior advocate Gopal Shankaranarayanan, also appearing for the TMC, said there were instances of elections being postponed due to law and order problems. In the circumstances that exist in Tripura, it would be meaningless to allow the polling on November 25, he argued, according to LiveLaw.

Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for the Tripura government, submitted that the petitioners have approached the apex court even as a petition is pending before the Tripura high court. However, Justice Chandrachud pointed out that the petitioners had admitted that the petition was pending before the high court, which was not taking it up because of vacations.

According to the Indian Express, Jethmalani said while the main grievance is that incidents are happening and arrests are not happening, “Every incident that had been mentioned has an FIR… in some case, there may be no arrests as the offences are not serious.”

But the bench responded, “When an MLA is assaulted in a public rally and if statement is made on affidavit we have no reason to disbelieve it.”