The Supreme Court on Thursday, November 25, 2021, underscored its powers to intervene and ensure that “fair and free elections” are held even as it ordered the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to provide two companies of Central paramilitary forces to secure polling booths in Tripura, where voting for the municipal elections is on amid allegations of violence and intimidation.
The court ordered the Director General of Police and Home Secretary, Tripura, to reassess the situation and contact the MHA for any further requirement of Central forces.
The polling booths would be manned by a “sufficient strength” of Central forces tasked to protect them from “disruption or dislocation”. Polling officers at each of the 770 booths, where voting is on, should take the help of the Central Armed Police Forces personnel in case of trouble.
The court directed that the media should be given access to facilitate “full and unhindered reporting” of the elections.
“The law is very well settled. The court can intervene to ensure that elections take place fairly and freely,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, leading a three-judge Bench, observed.
The judge was reacting to a submission by the Tripura government, represented by senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, that petitioner Trinamool Congress and the CPI (M), which intervened in the case, were deliberately trying to prejudice the court about the conduct of the elections.
Mr. Jethmalani said the political parties should have approached the State Election Commission instead of “rushing to the Supreme Court”.
“Today is polling day… What will be the effect of such a complaint made today?” Justice Chandrachud addressed Mr. Jethmalani, asserting the need to pass immediate directions to secure the electoral process.
“The issue here is the conduct of fair elections,” Justice Surya Kant, on the Bench that also comprises Justice Vikram Nath, told Mr. Jethmalani.
The court said it, without enquiring into the merits of the allegations, cannot delay passing appropriate orders considering the “exigency of the situation” in Tripura.
The hearing began with senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, for the Trinamool, submitting that he had videos showing goons sauntering into the polling booths and “pressing the button” since voting began early on Wednesday.
Mr. Jethmalani strongly refuted the allegation.
“The polling is going on in an absolutely peaceful manner. The only hindrance is the petitioner and the intervenor,” he countered.
Mr. Sankaranarayanan urged the court to allow him to show the videos of incidents of intimidation.
One of them shows an old woman bullied by strangers at a booth, Mr. Sankaranarayanan alleged. He said one of his candidates was not allowed to even cast his vote.
Mr. Jethmalani asked Mr. Sankaranarayanan to share the details of the candidate and steps would be taken to facilitate him to cast his vote.
He submitted that the DGP and the Home Secretary, after a meeting, had requested and got two companies of Border Security Force to protect the elections. The State government submitted that 458 Tripura State Rifles have been deployed for law and order duties.