By bappaditya paul
The West Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) has shelved its plan about seeking affidavits from panchayat poll candidates due to the shortage of non-judicial stamp papers of Rs 10 in the state. Instead, the SEC has now fallen back on plain paper declarations by the candidates, which courts do not consider “authentic” and may not be legally tenable.
Affidavits by candidates stating their crime records, pending litigation, educational qualifications, assets and liabilities, which was to be submitted along with the nomination paper, is a progressive step that could have brought about more accountability in the state’s panachayati system. As of now, only those contesting for zilla parishad seats in the state are required to file the affidavit.
“Hearing into a (civil) appeal from the Association for Democratic Reforms, the Supreme Court had in 2002 directed the Election Commission of India to seek mandatory affidavits from candidates that will have relevant details about their assets and antecedents. Taking a cue from that, the State Election Commission this time had decided to implement the same for those contesting the gram panchayat and panchayat samiti seats and the plan was to upload the affidavits on SEC website for the benefit of the public,” said the poll panel’s joint secretary, Mr Sabyasachi Ghosh.
Bengal has 58,040 gram panchayat and panchayat samiti seats and even if on an average five candidates get into the fray, the number of non-judicial papers needed for the purpose of affidavits would have surpassed 2.90-lakh.
“But the state government last week requested the commission to reconsider the decision as non-judicial stamp papers (of Rs 10 denomination) are short in supply and not available everywhere in the rural areas. Also there are not enough of notaries to verify the large number of affidavits that will be generated in the rural poll process. Hence, we have modified the previous order; the candidates will now give a declaration on plain paper and sign that in front of the returning officer or the assistant returning officer while filing their nominations,” Mr Ghosh said.
Legal experts however say that a plain paper declaration can no way be the substitute for an affidavit.
“According to law, an affidavit is a valid and authentic document and courts can admit them as evidence. Whereas, a declaration in plain paper is not considered authentic by courts and is not legally tenable in most cases,” said Mr Shamimul Bari, an advocate at the Calcutta High Court.
(The author is Senior Reporter, The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 1 June 2013.)