Supreme Court To Examine Ballot Papers, Video Of Chandigarh Polls Today

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Supreme Court To Examine Ballot Papers, Video Of Chandigarh Polls Today

Anil Masih explained that the marks were intended to segregate defaced ballot papers.

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court will today examine the ballot papers of the Chandigarh mayoral poll and video recording of the counting process amid concerns over “horse-trading” and the contentious victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP’s Manoj Sonkar won the election with 16 votes, defeating the Aam Aadmi Party-Congress alliance candidate Kuldeep Kumar, who secured 12 votes. However, controversy erupted when the returning officer, Anil Masih, declared eight votes from the coalition partners as invalid, sparking accusations of ballot tampering. A video went viral showing Mr Masih – a member of the BJP’s minority cell – marking on ballots cast for AAP councilors. During a February 5 hearing, the Supreme Court denounced his actions as a blatant “mockery of democracy.”

A Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud along with Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, expressed deep concern over the alleged “horse-trading” and decided to examine the ballot papers and video recording of the counting process. Rather than immediately ordering fresh polls, the court suggested considering the declaration of results based on the votes already cast.

The court also summoned the registrar general of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to present the records in New Delhi today.

‘Serious Matter’

During the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Chandigarh administration, proposed the idea of holding a fresh election under the supervision of a judicial officer appointed by the High Court. However, the bench, after deliberation, leaned towards completing the electoral process from the stage before the declaration of results. The court suggested nominating a judicial officer to oversee the counting of the ballot papers and disregarding any defacement by the returning officer.

The focus then shifted to Anil Masih, who had been accused of defacing the ballot papers. The Chief Justice, for the first time in independent India’s history, cross-examined the returning officer, expressing displeasure over the way the election was conducted. The court sternly warned Masih about potential prosecution for his actions, calling it a serious violation of the democratic process.

“Mr Masih, I am asking you questions. If you don’t give truthful answers, you will be prosecuted. This is a serious matter. We have seen the video. What were you doing looking at the camera and putting cross marks on the ballot papers? Why were you putting the marks?” Chief Justice Chandrachud asked.

The AAP’s defeated mayoral candidate, Kuldeep Kumar, moved the Supreme Court challenging the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s refusal to grant interim relief for a fresh poll. The Supreme Court then criticised the High Court for not passing any interim order.

New Returning Officer

Mr Masih, in a moment of admission, explained that the marks were intended to segregate defaced ballot papers. “Why did you deface the ballot papers? You only had to sign the papers. Where is it provided in the rules that you can put other marks on the ballot papers,” questioned Chief Justice Chandrachud.

Solicitor General Mehta found himself caught in the crossfire as the Chief Justice asserted, “Mr Solicitor, he (Mr Masih) has to be prosecuted. He is interfering with the election process.” 

“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,” declared Chief Justice Chandrachud.

Solicitor General Mehta, drawing attention to allegedly torn or defaced ballot papers, sought the court’s intervention. However, Kuldeep Kumar’s lawyer contested this, claiming that only eight ballot papers required examination and were not torn. The Supreme Court then resolved to examine the contested papers today, demanding their presentation with adequate security.

“The process of horsetrading which is going on is a serious matter,” the Chief Justice said.

The Supreme Court reserved its judgment on whether to conduct fresh elections or validate the earlier votes. 

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