Chandigarh mayoral polls: SC seeks ballot papers, video of counting day for perusal on 20 February

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the Chandigarh mayoral polls against the Congress-AAP alliance on 30 January.

BySouth First Desk

Published Feb 19, 2024 | 5:22 PMUpdatedFeb 19, 2024 | 5:22 PM

Supreme Court of India

Observing that “horse-trading is taking place”, the Supreme Court has said it would peruse on Tuesday, 20 February, the ballot papers of the Chandigarh mayoral polls and view the entire video recording of the counting day. The court directed the registrar general of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to depute a judicial officer to bring the records safely to Delhi.

The top court, on 5 February, had rapped Returning Officer Anil Masih, who conducted the mayoral polls, observing that it was obvious that he had defaced the ballot papers and that he should be prosecuted, adding that his action amounted to “murder” and a “mockery” of democracy.

A bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud directed the Chandigarh administration on Monday, 19 February, to provide security to the judicial officer, to be appointed by the high court, to ensure the safety of the officer and the records.

“We ourselves will look at the records at 2 pm,” the bench comprising justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said.

“Horse-trading taking place,” the CJI said while declining a plea that the case on the mayoral polls be heard on some other day instead of Tuesday.

What were you doing looking at the camera…’

Masih appeared before the bench in pursuance of the apex court’s direction and was quizzed by the judges over the alleged tampering of specific ballot papers.

Interacting with Masih, the bench asked, “Mr Masih, I am asking you questions. If you are not giving a truthful answer, you will be prosecuted. This is a serious matter. 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?”

Masih replied he did put the “X” mark on eight already “defaced” ballot papers and accused Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) councillors of creating a ruckus and trying to snatch away the ballot papers. He said that due to this, he was looking at the CCTV camera at the counting centre.

Also Read: Supreme Court grants relief to Siddaramaiah, stays proceedings against Karnataka CM

The arguments

Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Chandigarh Administration, suggested that a fresh election be held under the supervision of a judicial officer.

Kuldeep Kumar, the Aam Aadmi Party candidate who lost the mayor’s election, opposed the proposal. Advocate Guriminder Singh, representing the AAP candidate, said, “There are two instances where the ballot paper can be rejected as invalid. First, there is a mark on the paper which the voter identifies. The second one is that the vote is made by a cross in such a way, making it difficult to identify to whom votes are cast.”

He added, “We are on the point of whether the marks by the returning officer would make the ballots invalid. Rather than a de novo election, the present ballots can be counted, disregarding the marks…”

Also Read: ‘Mockery, murder of democracy’, says CJI on Chandigarh mayoral polls, pulls up presiding officer

Background

Earlier, the top court had come down heavily on the returning officer, observing that it was obvious that he had defaced the ballot papers and that he should be prosecuted.

One of the AAP councillors, Kuldeep Kumar, has moved the top court challenging a Punjab and Haryana High Court order that has refused to grant any interim relief to the party, which is seeking fresh mayoral polls in Chandigarh.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the Chandigarh mayoral polls against the Congress-AAP alliance on 30 January.

Manoj Sonkar of the BJP defeated the AAP’s Kuldeep Kumar for the mayor’s post, polling 16 votes against his rival’s 12. Eight votes were declared invalid.

However, Sonkar resigned from the post subsequently.

(With PTI inputs)