The Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside a notification for elections to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council and directed the Union Territory to issue a fresh notification in seven days, reported Live Law.
A bench of Justices Vikram Nath and Ahsanuddin Amanulla also held that the National Conference is entitled to the plough symbol that was denied to it.
On August 5, the Ladakh administration had notified that polling for 26 seats of the 30-member council, which governs the Kargil district, will be held on September 10.
On August 9, on National Conference’s plea, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court directed the Ladakh administration to let candidates of the Farooq Abdullah-led party contest on their reserved plough symbol. The order was upheld by the High Court’s division bench on August 14.
Following this, the Ladakh administration filed a special leave petition before the Supreme Court challenging the direction.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court dismissed the Union Territory’s petition and imposed a cost of Rs 1 lakh on the administration.
“The request for allotment of the plough symbol by R1 [National Conference] was bonafide, legitimate and just, for the plain reason that in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir [which included the present Union Territory of Ladakh], it was a recognized state party having been allotted the plough symbol,” said the bench.
It added that although the Election Commission did not notify National Conference as a state party after Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union Territories, “it cannot be simpliciter that R1 was not entitled to the allotment of plough symbol to it, in the factual background”.
The bench also noted that it has not been shown anything substantive to indicate that allotting the symbol to the National Conference would go against public interest.
The National Conference had approached the Ladakh chief election officer on May 31 to seek recognition as a state party and allotment of the plough symbol, reported The Wire. The election officer sought the Kargil district magistrate’s opinion on the matter, who wrote on July 12 that the law department of the Union Territory was in favour of grating the symbol to the party.
However, on July 26, the Ladakh administration turned down National Conference’s request and and recognised the National Conference as a state party for only Jammu and Kashmir.
The Supreme Court said that as a consequence of the move, the identity of the National Conference as a political party was “eclipsed, right before the election to the council”, where it was the incumbent party in power.
Pulling up the Ladakh administration, the bench said that the authorities might have been “overconfident” that the court would not interfere in the election process.
“The situation emanating herein is, in a manner of speaking, unprecedented,” it said. “With a sense of anguish, it would not be wrong to say that the instant judgment has been invited upon themselves by the appellants [Ladakh administration]. The orders of the High Court, in our considered opinion, were in aid of the electoral process, and no fault can be found therewith.”