Supreme Court overturns Chandigarh mayoral poll result, declares losing AAP candidate winner

The court initiated criminal proceedings under Section 340 of the CrPC against Masih for making false statements before the court.

BySouth First Desk

Published Feb 20, 2024 | 7:27 PMUpdatedFeb 20, 2024 | 7:27 PM

Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court on Tuesday, 20 February, overturned the result of the Chandigarh mayoral poll in which the BJP candidate had emerged, and declared defeated AAP-Congress alliance candidate Kuldeep Kumar as the new city mayor.

It ordered the prosecution of the returning officer for the poll, Anil Masih, a BJP leader, for his “misdemeanour” after finding serious faults in the conduct of the 30 January election.

The apex court made it clear that it was not quashing the entire electoral exercise and restricting itself to dealing with the wrong-doings in the counting process, which led to the invalidation of eight votes cast in Kumar’s favour.

Related: SC seeks ballot papers, video of counting day 

The observations 

A bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, comprising Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra, said it was evident that Masih deliberately attempted to deface eight ballot papers.

The court initiated criminal proceedings under Section 340 of the CrPC against Masih for making false statements before the court.

The court noted that as per Regulation 6 of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation (Procedure and Conduct of Business) Regulations 1996, a ballot can be invalid only under three circumstances: (i) more than one vote is cast, (ii) there is any mark identifying the voter, (iii) the marks are placed in an ambiguous manner making it doubtful to whom the vote is cast.

The court held that none of these circumstances existed in the eight ballots. Hence, the ballots were to be treated as valid, ignoring the marking made by the Presiding Officer.

“The ink marks placed by the Presiding Officer at the end of the ballots have no consequence,” the court observed, reported LiveLaw.

The court said that Masih made a deliberate attempt to deface eight ballots cast in favour of the petitioner so that the 8th respondent (BJP candidate) would be declared as the elected candidate.

“The conduct of the Presiding Officer has to be deprecated at two levels. Firstly, he has unlawfully altered the course of the Mayoral election. Secondly, in making a solemn statement before this court on 19 February, the Presiding Officer expressed falsehood for which he must be held accountable,” the court stated.

Rules against fresh election

The court also dismissed the prospect of conducting a fresh election.

“We are of the view that setting aside the entire election process is inappropriate as the only infirmity is found in the counting process. Setting aside the entire election process will compound the destruction of the democratic principles which happened due to the conduct of the Presiding Officer,” the court observed.

The Court stated that it cannot let democratic processes be set at nought by “subterfuges”.

The court also observed on Monday that “horse-trading was taking place”, referring to how the election was conducted.

The top court, on 5 February, had rapped Masih, 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.

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

Background

Earlier, an AAP councillor, Kuldeep Kumar, moved the top court challenging a Punjab and Haryana High Court order that refused to grant any interim relief to the party, which sought 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 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 closer to the date of hearing in the Supreme Court.

(With PTI inputs)