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'Unjustified, arbitrary': HC quashes order deferring Chandigarh mayor polls; election now on Jan 30

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Chandigarh, Jan 24 (PTI) The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Wednesday directed the Chandigarh mayoral polls be held on January 30, quashing the administration's "unreasonable, unjustified and arbitrary" decision to postpone the election.

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While allowing a petition challenging the order of the Chandigarh deputy commissioner, who is the authority for holding the mayoral polls, postponing the election from January 18 to February 6, the division bench of Justices Sudhir Singh and Harsh Bunger also observed that the grounds on which the polls were deferred were "totally absurd and frivolous".

The order came on the petition filed by Kuldeep Kumar, an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) councillor, who challenged the administration's order to postpone the polls.

Quashing the January 18 order of the Chandigarh DC, the court directed that the polls to the posts of mayor, senior deputy mayor and deputy mayor of the Municipal Corporation be conducted at 10 am on January 30.

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"The prescribed authority shall ensure that the scheduled elections are held under the Presiding Officer, as may be nominated by the said authority," the court order read.

The court directed that the councillors, who would come for voting in the elections, shall not be accompanied by any supporters or by the security personnel belonging to any other state.

"The Chandigarh Police shall ensure that adequate security is provided to the councillors who come for voting," it said.

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The court also asked the Chandigarh Police to ensure that neither any ruckus nor any untoward incident takes place on or around the premises of the MC during or after the election process.

The court observed that the mandate of the Constitution as regards the elections to various bodies, including the MCs, cannot be allowed to be put on hold, without any justifiable and reasonable ground.

"Since the grounds on which the elections have been deferred are unjustified and unreasonable and the very fact that it has been deferred for 18 long days, adds irrationality to it.

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"We have given the respondents patient hearing and sufficient opportunity to rectify the said wrong, but to no avail. We, thus, hold that the impugned order is totally unreasonable, unjustified and arbitrary," the court said.

During the hearing on Tuesday, the HC had asked the Chandigarh administration to come up with the earliest possible date for holding the mayoral polls or the matter will be decided on merit after hearing.

With the counsels for the Chandigarh administration submitting that polls were deferred owing to the illness of Presiding Officer Anil Masih and the law and order situation, the court said it does not find any justification in the first ground as if Masih had fallen ill, saying the DC being the prescribed authority was within his right to nominate or appoint any other Presiding Officer.

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Coming to the issue of law and order situation, suffice it to say that no convincing argument has been advanced on behalf of the respondents to justify the period of 18 days' deferment in the elections, the court said.

"One could have understood the situation, if there was any emergent crisis or natural calamity. However, there being none, we are constrained to observe that the grounds to defer the elections in question are totally absurd and frivolous," it said.

Pointing towards a police report which had said that a large number of supporters of different political parties may gather on the election day and which may create law and order situation, the court said the apprehensions were not that grave so as to fall within the definition of emergent crisis or natural calamity and also leading to a situation, which could not have been addressed by the administration.

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The mayoral polls, initially slated to be held on January 18, were deferred to February 6 after Masih -- the presiding officer -- fell sick, triggering protests from the Congress and AAP councillors.

The Congress and the AAP, which have joined hands for the mayoral polls, have slammed the BJP, accusing it of not allowing the election, fearing "imminent defeat".

Under the alliance, the AAP will fight for the mayor's seat while the Congress will contest the posts of senior deputy mayor and deputy mayor.

In the 35-member Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, the BJP has 14 councillors. It also has an ex-officio member MP (Kirron Kher) who has voting rights.

The AAP has 13 councillors and the Congress seven. The Shiromani Akali Dal has one councillor in the House.

In the hearing on Saturday, the counsel for the Chandigarh administration had said the polls were deferred keeping in mind the law and order issue.

Petitioner Kumar, who was the candidate for the mayor post, in his plea filed on January 19, had sought that the January 18 order of the DC, fixing February 6 as the next date for holding the polls, be set aside and elections be conducted forthwith.

On January 18, the AAP had moved the high court after the Chandigarh mayoral polls were abruptly postponed with councillors being told that the presiding officer had fallen ill.

During the hearing, the counsel for the Chandigarh administration had informed the high court that February 6 had been fixed as the next date for the mayoral polls after assessing the law and order situation. PTI CHS SUN CK

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