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The Election Commission of India (EC) today told the Delhi High Court that the 'hat' symbol was free and the Returning Officer (RO) will decide to whom it could be allotted after the filing of nominations for the bye-elections to the R K Nagar assembly segment.
The poll panel submitted before Justice S P Garg that the RO will take a decision by December 7 after the nominations received.
The submission by the EC's lawyer came in response to the court's query whether the Sasikala-TTV Dhinakaran group of AIADMK can use the 'hat' symbol for filing nominations.
The court had asked the question in the pre-lunch hearing of the pleas moved by Sasikala and Dhinakaran challenging the EC's order allotting the 'two-leaves' symbol to the AIADMK faction of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E K Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam.
The lawyers, appearing for Sasikala and Dhinakaran, said the poll panel had in its order cancelled the allotment of the 'hat' symbol to it and hence the RO will reject the nomination of their candidate.
They urged that the RO should be directed to take a decision on the morning of December 4, the last date for filing nominations, as December 7 will be too late.
The court, however, directed that the petitions be listed before the bench or judge, who is to hear such matters according to the roster.
The matter was listed before Justice Garg as Justice Indermeet Kaur, who according to the roster was supposed to hear the matter, was not available today.
The hat symbol was given to the Sasikala-Dhinakaran group by the EC in March this year when it had frozen the use of the 'two-leaves' symbol to which the group led by Palaniswami and Panneerselvam had also laid claim.
The Palaniswami-Panneerselvam faction had at the same time been granted the electric pole symbol.
However, on November 23 the poll panel ruled in favour of Palaniswami-Panneerselvam faction by allotting the 'two- leaves' symbol to them for the upcoming by-poll which is to be held on December 21.
Sasikala and Dhinakaran have in their pleas sought quashing of the November 23 order of the EC, alleging that it was bad in law and needed to be set aside.
The issue has been lingering since April in the aftermath of the announcement of by-poll to Radha Krishnan Nagar Assembly constituency here following the death of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa in December last year.
Sasikala and Dhinakaran's pleas had sought directions for initiating appropriate proceedings against Madhusudhanan, AIADMK's candidate for the R K Nagar bypoll, Palaniswami, Panneerselvam and MLA Semmalai for their acts.
They have also sought to call for records and files relating to the dispute over the symbol.
"The decision making process of the ECI is contrary to the settled legal principles. The EC has treated fabricated and untested material as genuine which has resulted in the hearing being unfair and consequently contrary to the principle of natural justice and therefore the proceedings and the order are void," the pleas have alleged.
The order of the Commission came as a setback to deposed party leader Sasikala, who is currently serving a four-year sentence in a Bengaluru jail in a disproportionate assets case, and her nephew Dhinakaran.
Earlier, rival factions led by Sasikala and Panneerselvam had staked claim over the symbol. Palaniswami was then in the Sasikala camp.
In an interim order in March this year, the EC had barred the two factions from using the party's name or its two leaves symbol in the bypoll.
Later, a large number of legislators led by Palaniswami revolted against Sasikala and announced the merger of the two factions.
The Palaniswami-Panneerselvam camp then submitted affidavits before the EC staking claim over the party name and symbol, which was contested by the Sasikala-Dhinakaran faction.