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The Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association (GHCAA) has filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court, praying for the installation of an additional polling booth in the High Court premises.
The GHAA had previously made a representation to the Returning Officer on February 16, seeking a separate polling booth for the West Zone of Ahmedabad, in view of the upcoming bar council elections. However, in a reply dated February 19, the Returning officer rejected the proposal.
This rejection has been challenged in the High Court as absolutely unjust, illegal, arbitrary and violative of Article of 14.
It has been submitted that the provision of only one polling booth for the entire city of Ahmedabad is contrary to the provisions of the Advocates Act and the BCI Rules, which endorse giving a just, reasonable and fair opportunity for eligible voters to cast their votes.
This submission has been advanced in light of the fact that there are over 1200 eligible voters, who, according to GHCAA, will be prejudicially affected by the provision of only one polling booth. In this context, the petition contends,
“The decision of respondent No.2 [Returning Officer] of not providing a polling booth at High Court negates the statutory right to vote available to every eligible voter and makes the said right illusory.
…All members of the association are put to great inconvenience and hardships in exercising their right to vote in the Bar Council of Gujarat election on account of the provision of only single pooling booth at City Civil Court, Bhadra.”
The petition also points out that in contrast, substantial voting is enabled at the Taluka and District levels as there are more polling booths provided in these areas.
“This phenomenon is evident for the reason that the polling booth provided at City Civil Court, Bhadra is situated approximately at the distance of 8 to 9 Km from High Court of Gujarat. Thus, the ratio of the Advocates voting from High Court as compared to the smallest court in the State is negligible which ultimately affects the representation of the High Court advocates in the elected body of BCG.”
In addition to the considerable distance that voters may have to traverse, the petitioner-association has also raised the issue of time constraints that arise when only a single polling booth is provided for.
“Considering the rush at this single polling booth provided at City Civil Court, Bhadra it would consume at least 30 minutes more for standing in the queue, obtaining ballot paper and casting 25 preferential votes. Therefore, each lawyer would require at least two hours at his disposal to cast his vote.
On the Election Day courts function in usual manner and therefore it become impossible for the lawyer practicing in the High Court to spare two hours for casting his votes. This finally results in denial of the right to vote despite their desire to cast vote.”
Further, due to overcrowding at the only polling booth available, the Association argues that female lawyers are often unable to vote without compromising their modesty and dignity. The issue of insufficient parking facilities has also been raised.
The problem of insufficient polling booths has also been argued as being against guidelines issued by the Election Commission as well as the Handbook for Returning Officers. In essence, these provisions direct the installation of polling booths within reasonable distances and in proportion to the number of voters, respectively. The petition states,
“The guidelines provide that: ‘for polling booth the voter should not exceed 1200/-. Further, the polling booths are to be so set up that no voter should require ordinarily to travel more than 2 kms to reach the polling booth’.
Similarly in the Handbook for Returning Officers it has been provided that optimum number of polling station should be set up in every assembly constituency and the number of polling booth should be determined by dividing the total number of voters in the constituency by 750/-…”
On these broad grounds, the GHCAA has prayed for the Court to direct the Returning Officer of the State Bar Council to provide for an auxiliary or independent polling booth at the High Court premises. Notably, the Association has also called for the expeditious disposal of the petition given that,
“The petitioner has a strong prima facie case and balance of convenience in its favour. Hence, the interim relief prayed for the petition is required to be granted. Alternatively, since the petition does not involve a very debatable legal issue the petition may be disposed of at the admission stage.”
Read copy of Petition: