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Fate of Erabot and Henry not Settled yet as SC puts Conditions on Erabot Till Final Verdict Pronounced

Politics is about governance. Politics is about power relations. Politics is about to grab power. Politics is all about timing.

Even amidst the COVID-19 surge in Manipur, Okram Henry never ceased to regain his coveted power as MLA of Wangkhei Assembly Constituency and ministerial berth in Nongthombam Biren’s council of ministers. He not only twists and turns the fate of his rival veteran politician Yumkham Erabot but also the electorates of the constituency besides the state politics.

Defeated Henry always seeks extra bouts to jab at his opponent. He goes to the Supreme Court even after Yumkham Erabot was sworn-in as MLA of 15-Wangkhei Assembly Constituency in his place.

Congress-turned BJP leader Okram Henry gets partial relief since Supreme Court has on May 6 admitted an appeal filed by him challenging Manipur High Court’s order declaring his election from 15 Wangkhei Assembly Constituency as null and void.

A three judge Bench consisting of Justice UU Lalit, Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice KM Joseph has directed that Yumkham Erabot, having been sworn-in as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, will be entitled to represent the electorate in the House and to participate in the debates, but will not be entitled to cast any vote on the floor of the House or in any committee of the House.

The Supreme Court Order further stated that Yumkham Erabot will also not be entitled to draw any monetary benefits in respect of the office of Member of the Assembly.

The order has clarified that it has only passed interim directions which will be operative till the present appeal is disposed by this Court. The Supreme Court has fixed July 27 for the final disposal of the case.

During the hearing through video conferencing on May 6, Senior Advocate Narender Hooda and Advocate Shivendra Dwivedi appeared on behalf of the petitioner and Senior Advocate H.S. Paonam and Advocate M. Gunedhor, on behalf of Yumkham Erabot on caveat.

The Court noted that Yumkham Erabot, who was declared to have been elected by virtue of second relief granted by the High Court, was sworn-in as a Member of the Legislative Assembly on April 21.

It is important to mention that the Court, while admitting the appeal, further noted that in normal circumstances, where the election of a returned candidate is set aside, by virtue of an interim order, certain protection is afforded to the appellant. However, since the appellant had resigned from the Assembly, by virtue of an interim order, the appellant cannot be representing the cause of the electorate before the House.

Further, the court observed that only scope of the interim order would, therefore, be confined to the second relief granted by the High Court, which was declaration of the petitioner as duly elected member of the constituency.

The court made note of the fact that no relief in terms of Section 116B (1) of the Act was prayed for, and that respondent Yumkham Erabot has already been sworn-in as a Member of the Assembly.

It may be mentioned that the present Appeal has been filed by BJP leader Okram Henry challenging High Court’s order passed on April 15 by the Manipur High Court declaring his election from 15 Wangkhei Assembly Constituency as null and void. The same order had also declared Yumkham Erabot, the petitioner of the Election Petition No. 2 of 2017 as duly elected member of 15 Wangkhei Assembly Constituency to the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly.

According to the petition, while Okram Henry contested as INC candidate, 1st respondent Yumkham Erabot contested as a BJP candidate and 2nd respondent Rajkumar Priyobarta was a candidate from All India Trinamool Congress (AITC).

When the election was held on March 4, 2017 for the 15-Wangkhei Assembly Constituency, counting was held on March 11, and the Returning Officer published the result declaring Okram Henry (INC) elected as MLA.

The appeal has stated that the respondent then filed an election petition under Representation of the People Act, 1951 before Manipur High Court of Manipur and challenged his election only on the ground that the nomination of the appellant was improperly accepted by the returning officer.

The appeal has stated that during pendency of the election petition, the appellant had certain ideological differences with the party from which he was elected and therefore, he resigned as an MLA from 15 Wangkhei Assembly Constituency in the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly and ceased to be an MLA after resignation was accepted. However, since the election petitioner had made a prayer for being declared as the returned candidate, bye-elections for the casual vacancy created by the resignation of the appellant was not held.

The plea has stated that on September 24 last year, Okram Henry was sworn in as a Cabinet Minister for the State of Manipur in the Government formed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. As Article 164(4) of the Constitution of India provides that a non-MLA cannot continue to be in the Council of Ministers until, unless he is elected as a member of Legislative Assembly within 6 months from the date of induction as minister. As such, appellant was entitled to continue as a Cabinet Minister till 28-3-2021, unless he got elected again in a bye-election.

On the other hand, the Manipur High Court had declared the election of Okram Henry as a member in the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly null and void after observing that failure to disclose name of the spouse and his dependents, details of pending criminal cases and educational qualification would constitute a corrupt practice falling within the meaning of ‘undue influence’ under sec. 123(2) of Representative of People Act, 1951.

Consequently, the appellant in his plea to the Supreme Court stated that the High Court failed to see that he has substantially complied with Section 33 and Section 33-A of the Representative of People Act, and there was absolutely no suppression of any information. Therefore, the High Court’s finding that the appellant failed to comply with the requirement of the provisions is factually erroneous.

It is also pointed out that the said information was provided in the “wrong column”, is not a substantial defect and therefore, the Returning Officer properly accepted the nomination papers of the appellant.

According to the appellant, the High Court could not have exercised power under Section 101 (b) of the Representative of People Act, as in the election petition, no allegation of corruption has been made.

Henry in the plea has argued that since the basic premise on which the High Court has proceeded, that he had concealed material fact regarding his criminal antecedents is factually erroneous, the other findings which depend on the basic premise are also erroneous and hence, they are liable to be set aside.

Moreover, Okram Henry had in April also approached the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Election Commission of India to hold bye elections to the post of MLA of 15-Wangkhei Assembly Manipur. However, the SC had declined to entertain the plea, and had granted him liberty to approach the High Court.

In the meantime, Henry gets a brief relief till July 27 for the final disposal of the case.

Interestingly, Yumkham Erabot in a statement issued on May 7 stated that he has been allowed to represent the electorate in the House and participate in assembly debates. However, he has been prohibited from casting any vote on the assembly floor or in any committee of the house and from receiving any monetary benefits (which mean only salary/pay) in respect of the office of Member of Assembly until further orders from the apex court. However, the Supreme Court denied the request of Okram Henry to stay the order of Hon’ble High Court passed on 15.04.2021 which nullifies the election of Okram Henry and thereby electing Erabot as an MLA of 15-Wangkhei Assembly Constituency.

“As a law-abiding citizen, I duly accept and respect the order passed by the Highest Court of this country. However, to my disappointment and utter shock, I have come across various leading newspapers circulating different misleading versions of the order passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court for the reasons best known to them. I humbly request all the media houses both print as well as electronic to verify the authenticity of any report before publishing the same. The said order only prohibits me from enjoying personal monetary benefit entitled to me, however, it does not prohibit me from enjoying other facilities and benefits such as, staff allowances and others entitled to me as a legislature and to perform and execute my duties as an MLA accordingly”, Erabot stated.

He further clarified that he respects the interim direction of the apex court. In fact, as a dedicated and responsible person, he does not have any want of his salary and as a legislature, he considers his duty to be of utmost priority, he added.

However, till the final disposal of the case in the Supreme Court, the fate of Erabot and Henry is not sure. Who can be the full-fledged representative of the 15-Wangkhei Assembly constituency is still uncertain and depends on the final decision from the court.

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