20 years after the infamous countermanding case was filed in the courts, all the accused persons were found “not guilty” of the charges of conspiracy to countermand the 1989 general elections in three constituencies.
Delivering the judgement on Tuesday, Judicial Magistrare First Class Vandana Tendulkar found “no sufficient evidence on record to prove to hold the accused persons guilty of conspiracy with intent to countermand the elections…”
She stated that the evidence presented by the prosecution failed to pass the test of law and was insufficient to prove that the nomination papers were fraudulently and dishonestly prepared.
It may be recalled that elections in two Assembly constituencies – Velim and Curtorim – and the Mormugao Lok Sabha constituency were countermanded in 1989 following the death of an independent candidate Caetano Jackson Fernandes who had filed his nomination papers as an independent candidate in all three constituencies.
Following investigations, the said Caetano Jackson’s daughter revealed that her father being terminally ill was bed ridden and could not go to the Collector’s office to file the papers, thus it was established that somebody impersonated Caetano Jackson while filing the nomination papers.
Police initially filed a charge sheet against free lance journalist Freddy Dias who had proposed the candidature of Caetano Jackson for the Lok Sabha elections. Freddy just before framing charges, filed a memo naming another eight persons who were involved in the matter and accordingly the court directed the police to investigate the matter afresh.
Subsequently, a new charge sheet was filed naming Freddy Dias, Advocate Radharao Gracias, then Seraulim Sarpanch Joe Fernandes, Lino Ferrao, Dr. Ernest Rodrigues, Advocate Anacleto Viegas, Norbert Almeida, Antonio Rosario Estebeiro and Augustinho Manuel Feranndes as accused.
Freddy Dias turned approver in the case and deposed in the court that he was asked to propose Caetano Jackson’s candidature by Radharao Gracias. He further stated that all the accused had planned to get the elections countermanded and added that Lino Ferrao had impersonated Caetano Jackson before the Collector.
However, the accused moved the higher courts to get the charges attracting imprisonment of more than seven years that were framed against them dropped and succeeded in their plea following which Freddy Dias could not continue to be an approver as an approver is recognized only in case of charges attracting punishment of seven years or more imprisonment.
The prosecution examined around 60 witnesses, none of who could substantiate and/or corroborate Freddy Dias’ contention of a conspiracy. Further Freddy Dias himself was found guilty of making contradictory statements and the argument of the accused that his deposition should not be given any merit as he had made allegations against various people including officers of the court found merit with the Judge.
Commenting immediately on the verdict, Advocate Anacleto Viegas said that Freddy Dias ought to be grateful to the other accused who argued his case for him and got him acquitted.
Although no person was found guilty in the matter, the infamous countermanding incident resulted in the Union Government amending the rules for conduct of elections. While earlier elections were countermanded following the death of any candidate, now only the death of a candidate backed by a political party or an independent who is established to be a ‘serious’ candidate mandates countermanding.
As the 1989 elections had thrown a perfectly hung assembly with the Congress and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party bagging an equal number of seats along with two independent MLAs elected to the house, government formation was delayed for quite a few months till by-elections were held at Velim and Curtorim which were won by the Congress candidate.
Advocate Radharao Gracias who was accused in the case, went on to get elected to the Assembly during the same term of the assembly when by-elections were held in Loutolim constituency following the disqualification of Dr. Luis Proto Barbosa under the Anti-Defection law.
Incidentally, in the present case, despite being a practicing lawyer himself, Advocate Radharao Gracias was represented by senior counsel Antonio B Menezes.