On Tuesday, the Supreme Court quashed the decision by the Returning Officer (RO), Anil Masih (the Presiding Officer), declaring a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate as the Chandigarh Mayor on January 30.
[Case: Kuldeep Kumar vs UT Chandigarh and ors]
A panel comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra issued the directive subsequent to rejecting RO Masih’s rationale for deeming eight votes cast in favor of the AAP candidate as invalid.
“The eight votes, which were deemed invalid through specific markings… Inclusion of these eight votes in favor of the petitioner (AAP candidate Kumar) results in a tally of 20 votes. We hereby annul the election outcome declared by the presiding officer. The AAP candidate is officially declared the triumphant participant in the mayoral elections of Chandigarh,” decreed the Court.
The Court expressed strong disapproval of the actions of Returning Officer Anil Masih.
The Court asserted that Masih had “illegally altered the trajectory of the mayoral election” and made a statement before the Court that was deemed a “manifest falsehood.”
Consequently, the Court issued a show cause notice to Masih.
“Masih could not have been oblivious to the making of a false statement. The Registrar Judicial is directed to issue a show cause notice to Anil Masih, compelling him to demonstrate why proceedings should not be instituted against him under Section 340 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (pertaining to Section 195, which addresses ‘Prosecution for contempt of lawful authority of public servants’). Anil Masih shall be afforded an opportunity to submit a reply to the show cause notice,” mandated the Court.
The Court was in the process of adjudicating a petition filed by AAP Councillor Kuldeep Kumar, who alleged fraudulent conduct in RO Masih’s decision to declare Manoj Sonkar of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who has since resigned, as the Mayor of Chandigarh on January 30.
On January 30, BJP’s Manoj Sonkar was officially declared the winner of the mayoral elections with 16 votes, surpassing the 12 votes received by the Congress-AAP candidate, Kuldeep Kumar. This outcome transpired despite the AAP-Congress alliance holding a majority in the house with 20 members. Out of a total of 36 votes cast, 8 votes were rejected during the counting process as invalid.
Subsequently, AAP councillor Kuldeep Kumar contested the mayoral election results initially before the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Upon the High Court’s refusal to stay the election results, Kumar filed a plea before the Supreme Court. Notably, during the pendency of the matter before the top court, Manoj Sonkar resigned from the position of Mayor, and three AAP councillors defected to the BJP.
This development was acknowledged by the Supreme Court, expressing distress over what it termed as “horse-trading.”
During the Monday hearing, Anil Masih, the Returning Officer, asserted that he had marked the eight ballot papers submitted by the AAP-Congress alliance with ticks and “x” marks to distinguish them as they were allegedly “defaced.” The Court then directed the production of the ballot papers and the video recording of the counting process.
Upon receiving the ballot papers during the subsequent hearing, the Court observed that the invalidated ballots, as marked by Masih, were evidently votes in favor of the AAP candidate, Kuldeep Kumar. Chief Justice of India (CJI) Chandrachud questioned Masih’s claim of defacement, asking where the alleged defacement was present.
Senior Advocate AM Singhvi, representing Kuldeep Kumar, criticized Masih for repeating this assertion before the Court. Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, defending Masih, argued that the disqualification was based on a small dot and folded ballot papers, suggesting a fair assessment by Masih.
Rohatgi claimed that Masih, seen looking at CCTV cameras, was responding to commotion outside, and he emphasized that no guilty person would act in such a manner with cameras present.
However, after the Court played the video of the January 30 vote count, it countered Rohatgi’s argument, noting that Masih had made the marks and declared the result before any commotion or attempts to snatch the ballot papers occurred.
Punjab’s Advocate General (AG) Gurminder Singh contested Masih’s explanation, asserting that the RO was well aware of the procedure and misled his counsel, emphasizing that voters were instructed to fold the slips laterally. The AG argued that Masih’s claim of defacement was misleading, as the RO himself explained the folding procedure on video.
Top Bare Acts Books for you