The Supreme Court’s election duty

Landmark decisions, frivolous petitions, review requests—the top court sees it all during election season

“WE WANT SUPREME COURT MONITORED ELECTION 2024,” Derek O’Brien of the All India Trinamool Congress tweeted in March, 2024. He was raising alarm over the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party “destroying institutions like [the Election Commission of India].” O’Brien’s demand for Supreme Court supervision was no more than a passionate tweet. But it’s a good jumping point to talk about the various ways in which the Supreme Court was invoked this election season. 

O’Brien might not have followed up on his absurd ask (absurd because Article 324 of the Constitution squarely vests the duty of conducting elections with the ECI) but several others have approached the Supreme Court for their own election-related requests. On 13 May, for instance, the Supreme Court heard the plea of a Delhi resident who sought the removal of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was granted bail to campaign for the Aam Aadmi Party. 

His bail conditions barred him from signing any official files, prompting the plea in Court. The Court dismissed the matter, while reminding the petitioner that they had no “legal right” to back their case. They suggested that the Lieutenant Governor would be the proper authority to consider their request. 

A day later, the Court dismissed a petition seeking a ban on Narendra Modi from contesting elections. The petition contended that the PM’s alleged hate speeches had violated the Model Code of Conduct. The Court said that the petitioner would have to approach the relevant authority, the ECI, before coming to them. 

Not every case is ill-considered. In February, the Court delivered a landmark judgement. While quashing the Electoral Bond Scheme, it found that unlimited corporate funding could unduly influence Indian elections, that a donor’s right to privacy could not trump a voter’s right to information, and that the Scheme threatened free and fair elections. 

In a more recent judgement from 26 April, the Court expressed its confidence in the ECI’s EVM-VVPAT mechanism, after hearing concerns that the system was susceptible to interference. Not for the first time, the Court “put on record” its trust on the electronic system—it had earlier dismissed several pleas seeking the return to paper ballots. 

Also in April, the Court heard civil society members from Rajasthan about the inordinate delays caused by state authorities and executive magistrates in granting permission for public gatherings during the Lok Sabha Election. The Court was emphatic in imposing a three-day deadline for the processing of all such applications.

Petitioners have come kicking and knocking even after the Supreme Court has deliberated and decided on matters. A review petition was filed against the clear-cut Electoral Bonds judgement by a lawyer who was threatened with contempt charges for disrupting the hearings. Another review petition against the VVPAT decision claims that the judgement is replete with “mistakes and errors.” 

When the Court comes back from summer vacation in July, a new government will be settling in. But the election-related cases will not have dried out. On the Court’s list will be a petition seeking an SIT probe into every allegation of quid pro quo transactions and kickbacks connected to the Electoral Bond Scheme. It will also hear a batch of petitions filed against the appointment process for Election Commissioners, which currently lends an advantage to the party in power at the Centre. 

In a country where there is always an election or three in the front- and rear-view mirrors, the Supreme Court’s election duty is unlikely to end.


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