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'Illegality' charges derail Delhi Bar Council executive election

The Bar Council of Delhi has cancelled its office bearer elections following allegations of "illegalities and irregularities" raised by 13 Delhi Bar Council members, including recently elected Luthra & Luthra partner Vijay Sondhi.

A group of 13 Delhi Bar Council members alleged contravention of the Advocates Act 1961 because five Delhi Bar Council election committee members wanted to contest for posts that they were mandated to oversee the election for.

Their "petition to take cognizance of the illegalities and irregularities committed by the Bar Council of Delhi in the conduct of elections" was sent to the chairman and members of the Bar Council of India (BCI) on 30 January 2010 seeking to invoke the supervisory jurisdiction of the BCI in asking it to intervene.

The election process for office bearers was then cancelled last Friday (5 February) by vote from the Delhi Bar Council, postponing the final vote to be held on 22 February.

"A grave mistake has been committed by the Bar Council of Delhi while constituting the Election Committee in as much as members who aspired to contest elections to be later conducted by the Election Committee have been elected to the Election Committee," stated the six-page petition.

The petitioners were seeking to restrain the election committee from holding an election for the posts of chairman, vice chairman, different committees of the Bar Council of Delhi and representative to the Bar Council of India and they also requested for fresh office bearer elections by a new committee.

"Immediately after election is notified in the Official Gazette, the Election Committee shall convene a meeting of the Bar Council for the purpose of electing a Chairman and Vice-Chairman from amongst its members," explained the petition. "It goes without saying that members of the Election Committee cannot become candidates for election of Chairman, Vice-Chairman and membership of Committees of the Bar Council of Delhi. They cannot contest and hold election at the same time, which if done, would militate against the very bedrock of fairness of the electoral process."

In the Delhi Bar Council's first official meeting on 12 January 2010 shortly after its constitution, the members had temporarily chosen Ramesh Gupta as the chairman and Ved Prakash Sharma, Puneet Mittal, Amit Sharma and Abhay Kumar Verma as members of the election committee as protracted negotiations took place for the coveted positions (as reported by Legally India 15 January).

On 18 January 2010 the committee in turn fixed 28 January 2010 as the last date for filing nomination to various posts and decided on 5 February for the casting of votes.  

It is alleged that later on the five election committee members including the chairman also filed nominations for them to contest elections to different posts as office bearers.

"At the time of constituting the Election Committee, the petitioners were not aware that the members of the Committee are not eligible to contest election and were duped into believing to the contrary," stated the petition.

The petition was signed by Delhi Bar Council members Rakesh Tiku, Rajiv Khosla, Rajinder Singh Rana, Rana Parween Siddiqui, Murari Tiwari, Sarla Kaushik, Adish Chandra Aggarwala, Jagdev, Surya Prakash Khatri, K K Manan, Vijay Kumar Sondhi, R K Kochhar, Puneet Mittal.

Vijay Sondhi
Vijay Sondhi
Luthra & Luthra partner and first-time Bar Council member Vijay Sondhi (pictured) commented: "This is for the first time in the history of the Bar Council that the election process was challenged and countermanded. We welcome the move keeping in view the transparent and democratic ways of functioning of the council rather than having it in the domain of certain individuals."

Incumbent election committee member Puneet Mittal said: "The election schedule has been deferred for certain objections received, but I think in all fairness the objections that were received should have been made earlier, because once you have announced the schedule, the election has started. But in any case, we have corrected some mistakes that were there, fresh schedule has been notified and the only thing we need to take care of is that there is no further mistake."

"There is a likelihood of reconstitution of the election committee because certain objections have been raised about the constitution and the manner of constitution also, so I think it is up to the members if they want to continue in the same or not," he added and said that a should be made on this within two days before 11 February."

Election committee member Ved Prakash Sharma was unavailable for comment when contacted by Legally India.

Delhi State Bar Council secretary Rattan Chand told Legally India that the problem with respect to constitution and working of Election Committee has been resolved and the previous notification has been withdrawn.

"The elections have been rescinded, now they're taking place on 22 February 2010," he said. "The election committee remains the same, but fresh nominations would now be filed starting from 11 February to 17 February 2010. We are in the process of sending out letters to the members."

He explained: "The contest would be amongst 25 members only. There were some procedural irregularities regarding election of the BCI representative which requires the Secretary of the State Bar Council as the returning officer to hold election for that post, but the Election Committee tried to do it instead. This is a minor difference on a technical point."

"There is always a majority and minority group, but we cannot comment on their internal politics," he added.

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