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'Deeply concerned with horse trading,' SC for prosecution of returning officer for defacing ballot papers [Read SC Order]

By Jhanak Singh      19 February, 2024 08:57 PM      0 Comments
Deeply concerned with horse trading SC for prosecution of returning officer for defacing ballot papers

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday said it was deeply concerned with horse trading during the Chandigarh mayor polls as it castigated the returning officer Anil Masih for defacing the ballot papers, saying he must be prosecuted for his misdemeanor.

The counting of votes in polls held on January 30 in Chandigarh mayor elections was marked allegations and counter allegations of irregularities.

Hearing a plea by the AAP's defeated candidate Kuldeep Kumar, a bench led by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud said interfering with the electoral democracy is a gravest thing possible.

The court also expressed concern over horse trading as three Aam Aadmi Party councillors joined BJP on Sunday, reducing the tally of the ruling party in Punjab in case of fresh elections.

Taking up the matter, the bench also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra agreed to a submission by the Punjab's Advocate General for fresh counting of votes.

He said conducting de novo process was not feasible in view of changed circumstances.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for Chandigarh administration opposed the plea, saying the prayer in the petition was holding of fresh polls.

"We know what is happening. We are deeply concerned about horse trading, which is taking place. It is very disturbing," the bench said.

The bench directed the High Court's Registrar General to nominate a judicial officer to produce all 36 ballot papers before it on Tuesday.

The court decided to further examine the petition filed by AAP's mayor candidate Kuldeep Kumar at 2 PM on February 20.

During the hearing, the court also put questions to Anil Masih, the returning officer as to why he defaced the ballot papers.

"It is very obvious from the video that you look at some of the ballot papers, depending upon the cross on the top or the bottom, you put your signature and put the ballot paper in the tray. Where the cross is at the other end of the ballot paper, you put an X mark on the ballot paper, it was very clear that you were putting X marks on certain ballot papers. Did you or did you not put X marks on certain ballot papers," the bench asked him.

The officer said, "The AAP councillors were making so much noise, camera! camera! camera! That is why I am looking at what is  the camera they are talking about. After the voting, I had to put signs on the ballot papers. The ballot papers which were defaced, I was just highlighting that it should not be mixed again that was the only reason."

The bench then asked him, "Where the cross is at the other end of the ballot paper, you put an X mark on the ballot paper, it was very clear that you were putting marks on certain ballot papers. Did you or did you not put X marks on certain ballot papers?"

As the officer admitted he marked on the defaced, the bench said, "His answer is very clear, he has to be prosecuted. Interfering with the electoral democracy by a returning officer is the gravest possible thing."

BJP candidate Manoj Sonkar was declared as elected after securing 16 votes against the 12 votes by the AAP-Congress joint candidate Kuldeep Kumar. He had resigned from the post following the controversy. The returning officer had rejected eight votes as invalid.

The matter before the top court was brought by the AAP candidate after the Punjab and Haryana High Court declined pass any interim order.

The apex court had on February 5 directed for preserving the original records of the election, saying it was obvious that the returning officer defaced the ballot papers in "murder" and "mockery" of democracy.

 

[Read SC Order]



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