Observing that it will lay down the guidelines on conducting by-elections, the Supreme Court on Monday stayed the Bombay High Court order asking the Election Commission to immediately hold the bypoll for the Pune Lok Sabha seat, which is vacant since March 29, 2023 after the death of MP Girish Bapat.
The top court rapped the poll panel for not holding the by-election for the seat for such a long period despite the law mandating conducting polls expeditiously.
“The seat got vacant on March 29, 2023. What was the Election Commission doing since then?” asked the bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra.
“We will lay down guidelines on holding of elections on account of vacancy,” the bench said.
The top court took note of the submission of the poll panel that the tenure of the present Lok Sabha is ending on June 16 this year, and holding the by-election will not serve the purpose in view of the fact that the general elections are also due later this year.
It issued notices to Pune resident Sughosh Joshi and others on the plea of the Election Commission against the December 13 order of the Bombay High Court.
It said the guidelines may be needed keeping in mind section 151A of the Representation of the People Act.
The provision mandates the Election Commission to fill the casual vacancies in “the Houses of Parliament and State Legislatures through bye elections within six months from the date of occurrence of the vacancy, provided that the remainder of the term of a member in relation to a vacancy is one year or more.”
On December 13 last year, the Bombay High Court had asked the Election Commission to immediately hold the by-election for the Pune Lok Sabha seat, stressing that people from the constituency cannot be left unrepresented for a long time.
The high court had ripped into the EC’s stand on not holding the election as it was busy with other polls, including preparation for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, calling it “bizarre and wholly unreasonable”.
The Pune Lok Sabha seat has been vacant since the death of sitting BJP Member of Parliament (MP) Girish Bapat on March 29, 2023.
“In any parliamentary democracy, governance is done by elected representatives who are the voices of people. If the representative is no more, another must be put in place. People cannot go unrepresented. That is wholly unconstitutional and is a fundamental anathema to our constitutional structure,” the high court had said.
The court passed the order on a plea filed by Pune resident Sughosh Joshi against a certificate issued by the EC that it will not hold the by-election to the constituency.
The EC had said it would not be holding the bypoll on two grounds one, it was busy with other polls including the preparatory activities for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and two, that even if the Pune bypoll was held, the elected representative would get a very short tenure.
The high court had refused to accept these grounds and said both are not valid concerns. They are, in fact, an “abdication” of constitutional duties and obligations which cannot be accepted, it said.
Bapat died aged 72 in Pune on March 29. He had served as an MLA five times from Kasba Peth constituency in the city. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Pune in 2019.