By LE Desk

Chennai, March 18: The Madras High Court on Wednesday dismissed a writ petition filed by the DMK challenging the constitutional validity of Section 60 (c) of the Representation of the People Act of 1951, which empowers the Election Commission of India (ECI) to notify a class of voters such as those above 80 years of age, the physically challenged, those under quarantine due to COVID-19 and people involved in essential services who can choose to cast their votes through postal ballot instead of visiting the polling stations.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy also rejected the DMK’s contention that the ECI had no jurisdiction to issue guidelines with regard to the manner in which such postal votes could be cast. 

The judges said the Commission had a plenary authority conferred on it under Article 324 of the Constitution to have superintendence and control of elections. They further did not find any arbitrariness on the part of the Commission in its choice of persons who could be permitted to cast votes through postal ballot, The Hindu reported.

The consideration appears to have been for those who may not be able to physically attend a polling booth to cast their vote, the first Division Bench said and added: “If such is the consideration, there is no arbitrariness in the classes of persons enumerated by the amendments of 2019 and 2020 to the Conduct of Election Rules of 1961, particularly as the object appears to be to afford such classes of persons their basic right to participate in the democratic process.”

It also rejected the argument that there had been excessive delegation of powers on the Commission.

“If there is excessive delegation in favour of the Election Commission, then there may be little room to question the Commission’s authority. On the other hand, if the Election Commission is seen to be acting in excess of its brief qua the 1961 Rules, no case of excessive delegation would be made out. In any event, in the backdrop of the rule-making provision in Section 169 of the Act of 1951 mandating consultation with the Election Commission, the Rules of 1961, particularly the amendments brought about in 2019 and 2020, do not amount to excessive delegation.”

Authoring the verdict, the Chief Justice wrote: “It must be acknowledged that all that the Election Commission has done here is to be inclusive and allow certain classes of persons who would have been excluded from exercising their franchise the right to use the postal ballot and participate in the celebration of the festival of democracy… One may add, with humility, that if the process is made inclusive without compromising on either the secrecy of the ballot or the fairness in the conduct of elections, it would be a greater cause to celebrate and compliment the conducting body.”

Adding a word of caution, he also said, “This is not to suggest that the challenge here was completely without basis since the experience of the procedure introduced by the Election Commission will reveal how such process may be more refined and attuned to the geography and the climate of the place.”

The DMK had filed the case contending that the postal ballot system might lead to external influence and voters might lose the independence and secrecy that they enjoy while voting through EVMs in a closed enclosure in polling booths.

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