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Poll case on SC fast track

New Delhi, Aug. 29: The Supreme Court will begin expeditious hearings on the presidential reference on the Gujarat elections from Monday.

A five-judge Constitution bench presided by Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal said the matter would be heard “as expeditiously as possible” in view of the important questions involved, particularly relating to the six-month gap between two sittings of an Assembly.

But the hearings — almost on a day-to-day basis — would begin only from Monday since chief secretaries of several states were yet to be served notices.

The Gujarat Assembly had last met in April and the six-month period gets over on October 1. According to a provision of the Constitution, the House has to be convened on October 2. Since it has been dissolved and the Election Commission has said it would hold elections in the state only in January 2003, the question assumes emergent proportions.

All states, through the chief secretaries, and all state advocates-general were issued the notices as the question involved interpretation of the Constitution regarding holding of Assembly elections.

The judges asked the Centre to ensure that notices reached all the state governments while adjourning the matter to Monday for regular hearings.

Solicitor-General Harish Salve, appearing for the Union government, suggested to the apex court that a time schedule could be drawn up today for hearing the reference.

Senior counsel Kapil Sibal, a Congress Rajya Sabha member appearing for the party, countered Salve, contending that it would not be proper to fix a time schedule for the hearings without service of the notices being complete in the court’s records.

After hearing the arguments, the bench observed that “the reference raises several important issues which needed to be decided as expeditiously as possible”.

The court had issued notices to the Election Commission, all state governments, all state advocates-general and six national parties on August 26 to seek their views on the reference.

The President has referred under Article 143 three questions to the court for its opinion:

nIs Article 174 subject to the decision of the Election Commission under Article 324 as to the schedule of elections of the Assembly' Article 174 stipulates that there should not be a gap of more than six months between two sessions of an Assembly. Article 324 states that the poll panel has powers over “superintendence, conduct and control” of elections.

nCan the Election Commission frame a schedule for elections to an Assembly on the premise that any infraction of the mandate of Article 174 would be remedied by a resort to Article 356 by the President' Under Article 356, the President dissolves an Assembly and imposes Central rule. The Election Commission, in its order postponing polls in Gujarat, had suggested to the Centre that President’s rule be imposed in the state.

nIs the Election Commission under a duty to carry out the mandate of Article 174 by drawing upon all the requisite resources of the Union and the state to ensure free and fair election'

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