The Election Commission of India passed an unprecedented order, ending the campaign in West Bengal at 10 pm on May 16 instead of 5 pm on May 17 as was notified earlier, and is the norm. It also removed the state’s Home Secretary, and a senior police officer.
Why was decision taken?
The decisions were taken under Article 324 of the Constitution, in response to street violence in Kolkata between cadres of the BJP and Trinamool Congress.
Just a month earlier, on April 15, the ECI had told the Supreme Court that its powers to discipline politicians who sought votes in the name of caste or religion were “very limited”.
Article 324 vests “in an Election Commission” the “superintendence, direction and control of elections”. Parliament enacted The Representation of the People Act, 1950 and The Representation of the People Act, 1951 to define and enlarge the powers of the Commission.
The Supreme Court in Mohinder Singh Gill & Anr vs The Chief Election Commissioner, New Delhi and Ors (1977) held that Article 324 “operates in areas left unoccupied by legislation and the words ‘superintendence, direction and control’ as well as ‘conduct of all elections’ are the broadest terms”. The Constitution has not defined these terms.
Article 324, the court said, “is a plenary provision vesting the whole responsibility for national and State elections” in the ECI “and, therefore, the necessary powers to discharge that function”.
Importantly, however, the court underlined that powers by ECI have to exercised in accordance with laws made by Legislatues