Chandigarh mayoral vote-count row: Supreme Court to examine ballot papers today : The Tribune India

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Chandigarh mayoral vote-count row: Supreme Court to examine ballot papers today

During the hearing on Monday, the apex court said that Returning Officer Anil Masih has to be prosecuted

Chandigarh mayoral vote-count row: Supreme Court to examine ballot papers today

Anil Masih, returning officer. - File photo



Tribune News Service

Satya Prakash

New Delhi, February 20

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered that the ballot papers and video recording of counting in the Chandigarh mayoral elections be produced before it on Tuesday to enable it to take a final decision on AAP candidate Kuldeep Kumar’s petition against alleged bungling by the returning officer.

New returning officer likely

What we propose to do is this... We will direct the DC to appoint a fresh returning officer, who is not aligned to any party. The process shall be taken to logical conclusion. — Bench

A three-judge Bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud, which had on February 5 termed the alleged defacing of ballot “murder of democracy”, expressed serious concern over reports of horse-trading and came down heavily on returning officer Anil Masih once again.

“We direct that the ballot papers which have been placed in the custody of the Registrar General be produced before this court at 2 pm on February 20 by a judicial officer to be nominated by the Registrar General for the purpose of transporting the ballot papers to this court,” ordered the Bench, which also included Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra.

“Proper security arrangements shall be made to ensure the safe transit of the judicial officer nominated by the Registrar General in pursuance of this order. Arrangements shall also be made to secure proper preservation and custody of the ballot papers with the judicial officer,” it said.

“The judicial officer shall also produce the entire video of the counting of the votes before the returning officer, which took place on January 30,” it said.

“We will see the ballot papers,” the Bench said, while directing Masih to remain present on Tuesday as well.

As three AAP councillors reportedly switched over to the BJP, the top court expressed serious concern over horse-trading. “We know what’s happening. We are deeply concerned about horse-trading which is taking place. It’s very disturbing,” the CJI said.

“What we propose to do is this... We will direct the Deputy Commissioner to appoint a fresh returning officer, who is not aligned to any political party. The process shall be taken to the logical conclusion from the stage it stopped before the declaration of results,” the Bench said. However, a final decision will be taken after the Tuesday hearing.

The Bench posed several probing questions to Masih and cautioned him, saying if he didn’t give truthful answers, he would be prosecuted.

“This is a very serious matter ... .In case of any falsehood, you will be prosecuted... We have seen the video. What were you doing looking at the camera putting out crosses on the ballot papers? Why were you putting marks?” the CJI asked Masih.

“After the voting, I had to put signs on the ballot papers. The ballot papers which were defaced had to be segregated,” replied Masih.

“It’s very evident from the video that you were putting X marks on certain ballot papers. Did you put X marks on certain ballot papers,” asked the CJI.

As Masih said he marked eight ballot papers, the CJI asked, “Why did you deface the ballot papers? You had to only sign the ballot papers… Where is it provided in the rules that you can put other marks in the ballot papers?”

Masih sought to defend himself by saying that the ballot papers were defaced by candidates who snatched and destroyed these and that he was separately marking the defaced ballot papers to ensure these didn’t get mixed up.

“Mr Solicitor, he (Masih) has to be prosecuted. He is interfering with the election process,” CJI Chandrachud said.

On behalf of the Chandigarh Administration, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta suggested that a fresh poll should be conducted. However, senior counsel Gurminder Singh, representing AAP, said such a course of action would defeat the purpose. Singh was assisted by advocate RPS Bara.

BJP candidate Manoj Sonkar had bagged 16 votes against the 12 received by Congress-AAP candidate Kuldeep Kumar after eight votes were rejected in the January 30 poll to elect the Mayor of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation. However, Sonkar resigned on Sunday.

AAP candidate Kuldeep Kumar had moved the top court seeking quashing of the Chandigarh mayoral election results that declared BJP candidate Sonkar as the winner.

“Please tell your returning officer that the Supreme Court is watching over him. We will not allow democracy to be murdered like this. The only thing… the great stabilising force in the country is the purity of the electoral process,” an angry CJI Chandrachud had on February 5 told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta after watching a video clip of his alleged misdeeds.

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