KARGIL: In a major jolt to the Ladakh administration, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held that Jammu and Kashmir National Conference party is entitled to ‘plough’ symbol in the LAHDC Kargil elections.
The top court set aside the notification for Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) elections in the Kargil region, and directed the UT administration to issue a fresh notification within 7 days.
The Union Territory administration had issued the notification on August 5 for the 5th general elections to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Kargil, scheduled for September 10.
The apex court also imposed costs of Rs 1 lakh on Ladakh Administration while dismissing its petition opposing allotment of ‘plough’ symbol to JKNC.
The bench comprising Justices Vikram Nath and Ahsanuddin Amanullah, which had reserved orders on September 1, pronounced the verdict.
Justice Amanullah, who read out the operative portion of the judgment, stated, “For these reasons, the entire election process issued by the administration by Ladakh stands set aside”.
The Ladakh Administration had filed the special leave petition challenging the orders passed the J&K and Ladakh High Court to notify the plough symbol for the National Conference.
Earlier on September 1, the Supreme Court had reserved its verdict on the plea after Additional Solicitor General K M Natraj, appearing for the UT administration and the election commission, said the election symbol order of 1968 is applicable to assembly and parliamentary polls and not for local body elections.
He also said the reserved election symbols were allocated to recognised national political parties. Moreover, out of 89 candidates purportedly belonging to National Conference, none of them sought allocation of plough’ party symbol for the upcoming local body polls.
The law officer said the last date for filing nomination for the hill council polls ended on August 23 and after the scrutiny of nomination papers a day after, the candidates could withdraw themselves from the fray by August 26.
“The elections are scheduled on September 10 and the poll process cannot be stalled,” he had said, adding the poll panel was not under any obligation to grant reserved symbols to the candidates.
The counsel for National Conference had opposed the submissions, saying the party was in power in the Ladakh hill council and its candidates cannot be denied the benefit of a reserved poll symbol for the local body elections.
The 1968 election symbol order was applied to deprive the recognised party from going public with its fixed election symbol, the lawyer said, adding that a level playing field was denied to the National Conference.
“The local body elections are also fought on party lines,” he added.
Earlier, the bench had termed as “unfair” the act of the UT administration of not granting the ‘plough’ poll symbol to the party for the hill council elections despite the order of the high court in this regard.
“It is unfair… We will set aside the election schedule if need arises,” the bench had observed on August 25 while hearing the appeal of the Union Territory of Ladakh against the order of the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court.
Prior to this, the top court had refused to stay the high court order on the grant of the ‘plough’ poll symbol for the party in the hill council elections.
The high court has dismissed the Ladakh administration’s plea against a single bench order allowing NC candidates to contest the upcoming polls for LAHDC, Kargil, on the party symbol.
The administration had approached a division bench of the high court against the single bench order of August 9 which directed the NC to approach the office of the Election Department of the Administration of Union Territory of Ladakh for notifying the reserved symbol ‘plough’ already allotted to for in the polls.
This Story is being updated..