Chennai: The Madras High Court on Tuesday declared the notification for civic polls in the state, scheduled for October 17 and 19, as null and void, holding that it violated the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Election Rules.
The court directed the State Election Commission to issue a fresh notification for holding local body elections and complete the poll process before December 31.
On a writ plea filed by DMK leader and Rajya Sabha member RS Barathy, the court, in its interim order, declared the poll notification dated September 26 null and void.
The DMK had sought adequate reservation to the Scheduled Tribes, and necessary rotation of seats in all the posts as mandated in the Constitution.
Another plea of DMK related to the civic polls is pending in the Supreme Court.
Quashing the notification, the court said, "the notification informing the public about the election is to be issued first as per rule 24 (2) (i) of Tamil Nadu Panchayat Rules." Only thereafter, the poll schedule notification should be published according to rule 24 (1), it said.
However, in this case, the poll schedule was announced in the press conference on September 25 and no notification to the public about the conduct of the election was made, it said.
Referring to non-compliance of the stipulation for separate public and election notifications on two different dates, the court held that "it only proves a clear violation of Rule 24 of Tamil Nadu Panchayat Rules. To put in a nutshell, the election notification issued by State Election Commission is null and void."
"There is non-compliance of Rule 24 of Tamil Nadu Panchayat (Elections) Rules, 1995 by the issuance of Public Notice, firstly about the conduct of the election as per rule 24(2) (i) and notifying the poll schedule under Rule 24(1) subsequently."
The government was directed by the court to amend Rule 26 of the Tamil Nadu Panchayats (Election) Rules 1995 mandating the contestants to file a separate affidavit furnishing full information falling under five categories which includes criminal background if any.
The court directed the SEC to reject the nominations of candidates who fail to file such an affidavit besides directing the state government to appoint special officers till the elections were held.
The court asked the SEC to sensitise the public about cases if any against the candidates by issuing advertisement. The court posted the matter for first week of January 2017.
The court said the SEC delayed the onset of the election work and it was now rushing through the procedures, in a hurried manner, thereby causing prejudice to the other contesting parties.
It observed that there was a delay on the part of the state government in commencing the process of reservation of seats for Scheduled Caste and Tribes, and women.
"Last minute announcement would definitely cause prejudice to the political parties including the candidates and voters. There is no necessity for the state government to delay in identifying and reserving seats for weaker sections."
The court said the state, which was aware that five years tenure of elected local bodies would end in October 2016, should have taken steps in advance so that sufficient time was given to all parties to know which of the wards and local bodies were reserved.?
Declining to accept the argument of the SEC, it said, "There is no level playing field available to all the parties as the ruling party, obviously had prior information about the election, as proved by announcement of its candidates on the date of notification (26 September) and there was no sufficient time given to other parties to get ready for elections."
It directed the SEC to issue a fresh notification, conduct elections and complete the election process as per law not later than December 31.