GUWAHATI/HAFLONG, Nov 8: Gauhati High Court on Thursday directed Assam government and Assam State Election Commission (ASEC) to conduct elections to North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC) within February 15, next.
A division bench of the high court comprising Chief Justice AS Bopanna and Justice Arup Kumar Goswami passed the order while disposing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by former chief executive member (CEM) of NCHAC and former MLA Samarjit Haflongbar challenging the state government’s order for extension of the term of the council from June 3 to December 5.
The court, while directed to hold the election within January 15, said that in case of any difficulty the entire electoral process must be completed within February 15 next.
The court also directed the State Election Commission to maintain 40-44 days gap between notification and counting of votes and publish the notification within December, lawyer Desreen Thousan informed The Hills Times.
In the petition, Haflongbar alleged the state government has extended the term of the council for six months with effect from June 3 violating all established rules and regulations. The government has extended the term of the council on the basis of a report of the deputy commissioner of Dima Hasao district that majority of the officials and employees of the district administration were engaged for verification works of National Register of Citizens (NRC) and hence administration has not sufficient manpower to conduct the elections to the council.
On April 4, Dima Hasao deputy commissioner Amitabh Rajkhowa wrote to Assam Hills Area Department (HAD) commissioner and secretary stating that it will be difficult to conduct the elections on time as 80 per cent of the field officers to be engaged in the election are currently engaged in the updating the NRC.
“As per the Paragraph–2 of Sixth schedule constitution, the elected members of the District Council shall hold office for a term of five years from the date appointed for the first meeting of the council after the general elections to the council, unless the District Council is sooner dissolved under Paragraph 16 and nominated member shall hold office at pleasure of the Governor,” Haflongbar said in the PIL.
“Provided that the said period of five years may, while a proclamation of Emergency is in operation or if circumstances exist which, in the opinion of the Governor, render the holding of elections impracticable, be extended by the Governor for a period not exceeding one year at a time and in any case where a proclamation of Emergency is in operation not extending beyond a period of six months after the proclamation has ceased to operate. My question is that what kind of Emergency exists in Dima Hasao district and what kind of Emergency wants to prove by the state government,” he argued in the PIL.
Hearing the PIL on September 13, the High Court passed an interim order directing the state government to hold elections to the NCHAC within December 3, next. The court had also restricted the state government for further extension of the autonomous council after expiry of its term, i.e. December 3.
The court had also asked the state government to declare the date of elections to the council during its next hearing on October 4.
In the court, the petition was represented by lawyer BD Das and Desreen Thousan while, additional advocate general (AAG) Debojit Sakia represented the state government during hearing of the case.