Co-Operative Institutions In State Are Victims Of Politicisation- Kerala HC While Ordering Probe Into Disruption Of Election By Ruling Party Workers
The Kerala High Court has directed the state DGP to inquire and report on the Police officers who are responsible for not taking effective steps to comply with the directions of the High Court to ensure smooth conduct of elections to a co-operative society.
The Division Bench of Justice P. B. Suresh Kumar and Justice C. S. Sudha has also directed the DGP report on the action against the errant Police officers.
Facts of the case
A single bench of the High Cout had passed an interim order to conduct of election in Thodupuzha Primary Co-Operative Agricultural Rural Development Bank Ltd. which was being managed by a Managing Committee whose term had expired and was continuing in office on the basis of the arrangement made by the Government in the wake of COVID- 19 pandemic.
The petitioners, at whose instance the order was passed, approached the Division Bench against the order stating that the order is unworkable. Though the Division Bench also ordered conduct of election, the State Co-operateive Election Commission told the Court that the election could not be conducted due to the delay on the part of the officials of the State Co-operative Department in fixing a date for the election and in extending the services of the personnel required for holding the election.
The petitioners alleged that the Co-opreative Department was attempting to prolong the election so as to enable the existing Managing Committee to continue in office and to fix a working day rather than a holiday for conducting the election to the Society so as to reduce the turnout on the election day "with a view to ensure the success of the existing committee who have the blessings of the political parties in power in the State". Thereafter, the election was notified on May 14.
The petitioner then moved the Court seeking police protection to ensure that the election is not obstructed by "Prof.K.I.Antony and his henchmen", who, it was alleged, will sabotage the election. Justice Gopinath P. ordered police protection and videography of the election and appointed Advocate S.Muhammad Alikhan as the Advocate Commissioner to oversee the election.
Thereafter, the Division Bench was informed that the election had to be postponed from May 14 as "polling was obstructed by the supporters of the candidates who have the blessings of the political parties which are in power in the State by resorting to violence". If was alleged that despite the order of police protection granted by the Court, "the police remained as mute spectators at the instance of the leaders of the said political parties".
The Election Commission through Advocate R. Lakshmi Narayan submitted that though it made all arrangements for the election, the election could not be conducted due to the riot that took place at the polling station on the polling day. The Advocate General for the state refuted the submission made by Senior Counsel George Poonthottam for the petitioner that the police officials were hand in glove with the leaders of the political parties in power.
The Court in its June 16 order noted that as per the Returning Officer, certain persons prevented the voters and polling officials from entering the polling station. The Court also noted that the Advocate Commissioner through his report affirmed what the returning officer said. "It is also stated in the report filed by the Advocate Commissioner that he observed that one V.V.Mathai, a member of the ruling political party and the Chairman of Thodupuzha Circle Co-operative Union was seen requiring the Returning Officer in a threatening tone to cancel the election", the Court noted.
The Bench watched the videos made available to the Court by the Election Commission by displaying the same in open court. "The videos displayed contain, among others, visuals of a mob blocking entry into the polling station, attacking and chasing those who were attempting to enter the polling station and threatening and attacking the police", the Court noted.
Politicisation of Co-Operative Institutions
The Court observed that it is the obligation of the State to ensure that co-operative societies are governed by the elected representatives of its members. "In the light of the said constitutional provision, bureaucratic control of a co-operative society is one to be resorted to only in exceptionally exceptional situations where democratic control is not possible. We have referred to the constitutional scheme only to emphasise that timely election to a co-operative society is not merely a statutory obligation of the authorities concerned, but a constitutional obligation", the Court said.
The Court observed that a majority of the co-operative institutions in the State are "victims of politicisation in a sense that they are being used as levers of political power, and elections to co-operative societies have become an arena of rivalries between political parties". "It is on account of such politicisation that the societies lack positive philosophy, ethos of co-operation and also modern practices of professional management which ultimately lead to bad debts and losses, thereby eroding the faith of the people in cooperative institutions", the Court said in its order.
The Bench said that the case is an illustrative one of the evil effects of the politicisation of co-operative societies. "But for the rivalry between political parties, we do not find any reason why a group of people should go to the horrid extent of indulging in an unlawful activity in the nature of rioting, so as to prevent holding of an election in a co-operative society, that too, one conducted as directed by this Court with police aid", the Court said.
Court noted that only a few Police Constables were made available at the entrance of the polling station and when the mob came, they could not do anything. As per the order, the videos indicate that the mob was attacking even the Police Constables including women Police Constables, apart from revealing that the assailants were physically assaulting and chasing away people who attempted to enter the polling station. "The police could not even prevent assault on individuals, much less the violence. No Police Constable was found in the videos where assault on individuals was recorded", Court said.
"We are unable to believe that the Police force in the State is incapable of providing aid for the smooth conduct of an election to a co-operative society. If we assume the contrary, we will have to hold that the Police force in the State is incapable of maintaining law and order. Needless to say, the Police Officers concerned were not eager and earnest in discharging their duties despite orders passed by this Court in W.P.(C) No.15659 of 2022, but at the same time, they were passively ensuring the postponement of the election", the Court said about the conduct of Kerala Police.
The Court suo motu impleaded the Director General of Police (DGP) and the Superintendent of Police, Idukki.
- The Court directed the DGP to conduct an enquiry through an officer to find out the officers who are responsible for not taking effective steps for compliance of the directions of the Court. "A report shall be filed before this Court after the enquiry, indicating the action taken", the Court ordered.
- The Court directed the Election Commission to notify the polling of the election afresh forthwith, after due consultation with the Director General of Police and take necessary steps to conduct the election on the notified date.
- The Court directed the DGP to take all necessary steps to ensure that the election to the Society is conducted in a peaceful manner.
The Court has directed that the matter be listed after six weeks.
In the meantime, the petitioner has moved a contempt petition before the single judge against the Deputy Superintendent and CI of Police for violation of the Court's order. The Single Bench of Justice Gopinath P. has adjourned the petition "to enable the parties to place before this Court, the report directed to be filed by the State Police Chief".