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Mayor election: SC directs to treat 8 invalidated ballots as valid, orders recounting

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday examined the eight defaced ballot papers of the Chandigarh mayor poll and video recording of the counting process following the contentious victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and ordered to treat the eight invalidated ballots as valid.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra while pulling up returning officer Anil Masih for ‘contempt of court”, directed to treat the eight invalidated ballots as valid and said that the invalidated ballots “shall be recounted… treated as valid” and “results declared based on that.

CJI DY Chandrachud while dictating his order referred to the background of the case and said the case pertains to a matter wherein the Deputy Commissioner of UT Chandigarh is designated as the deputy commissioner for section 60 and other relevant provisions. Shri Vinay Pratap Singh acting in his capacity as prescribed authority directed a meeting of councillors at 11 am on January 18.

Shri Anil Masih one of the councillors who was not standing for elections was named as presiding authority. The agenda was to conduct the election of the Mayor, Senior Deputy Mayor.

CJI led the bench while noting the facts of the case and the High Court order in the case said, “It has come to our notice that the first candidate had withdrawn his candidature and noted by the high court as well. A total of 35 councillors were eligible to vote for the mayoral polls and apart from this MP from the UT was also eligible to vote and therefore there was a total of 36 eligible voters.”

Elections to the post of mayor are governed by Chandigarh Municipal elections conduct of rules. Regulation 6 provides for the election of the mayor.

Justice Chandrachud said that the results were announced by the presiding officer on January 30. The result sheet shows that 36 votes were polled. 8 were invalidated.. Petitioner had 12 votes whereas the 8th respondent had 16 votes. The presiding officer declared the election results. This led to a plea before the Punjab and Haryana High Court which declined to stay the election results and the petition was posted to be heard after 3 weeks.

Yesterday the Apex Court had directed that “The ballot papers which are placed in the custody of Registrar General (of the High Court) be produced before this Court by a judicial officer by today 2 PM. The necessary security arrangements shall be made to ensure safe transit and proper preservation and custody of ballot papers along with judicial officers.”

The Returning Officer Anil Masih will also remain present personally before the court as well, the bench directed yesterday.

The Ballot papers of the Chandigarh mayor election were placed before Apex Court today. The bench said all records were sequestered and produced before this court in sealed and secure custody by Shri Varun Nagpal, OSD Litigation of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The CJI after going through the ballot papers noted that all 8 invalidated ballots were cast in favour of Congress-AAP joint candidate Kuldeep Kumar.

The video of the Polls was played in the open court today and was watched by everyone present in Courtroom Number 1. The entire votes counting video… was watched by the Bench as well as all the lawyers present there.

Currently, the video is on how some of the candidates insist that RO should use a green ink pen and how the demand was not met, The CJI said.

He said, “Please upload the video on everybody’s screen, let all of them see … a little entertainment is good for everybody! Justice Chandrachud mused.

The bench while watching the video in the court said, “See Kuldeep Kumar and Manoj Kumar. What has been done is… 8 ballots invalidated. All 8 have received the stamp for Kuldeep Kumar. The RO signs at the bottom and puts a single line there.. In everywhere he puts a single line..

The CJI said, “I have a question for Mr Masih you said that you put the line because it was defaced.. Where has it been defaced?

Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for the AAP candidate said, “he said that (put the line because it was defaced) in court too. Anil Masih exacerbated the felony by repeating that before this court.. It was beyond what was done that day.

Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for Returning Officer Masih said, there is a small dot if it is seen clearly.. What he has done is ..in one of them there is a small dot.. some are folded from the top.. by a line tick. he disqualified the same and that was his assessment. he looked at the video because there was a commotion outside .. no one can do this with cameras present.. no guilty man will look at the camera, Rohatagi justified.

The CJI said, “We will direct that electoral votes be recounted and let these 8 votes be counted also and not be considered as defaced.

To this Rohatgi replied, I have no desire to be the Returning Officer … but let another officer check.

Singhvi said nobody should have the privilege of eating the fruits of a poisonous tree.. He is defending the dot now.

The Attorney General said They ask voters to fold the slips laterally.. The RO explained the procedure himself.. it is on video.. He is very well aware of why Dot is there and he is misleading his senior counsel. He asked for it to be folded.

Punjab AG signals that this is the point to be noted.

Judges continue to look at the screen. As the matter was taking considerable time the CJI said we have got the relevant timelines also.. at this rate we all will be here till 5:45 pm. (laughs)

Defending the Returning officer Rohatgi said, “It is clear that the ballots were snatched by the AAP members.. there are dots and some are folded.. one may say anything but not to call someone as a thief… it was all wrong that he looked at the camera etc.

Senior Advocate Maninder Singh appearing for the returning candidates said Please see section 38(3)…

Singhvi interrupted and said that 38(3) will apply only if you are validly elected.. we are asking for a recount based on a direct judgment of this court.. horse trading is a phrase which insults the horse itself, Singhvi said.

The matter pertains to an appeal filed by AAP leader Kuldeep Kumar challenging the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s refusal to grant an immediate stay on the election result in which a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate was declared elected as the Chandigarh Mayor.

Kumar moved the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the operation of the notification issued for the appointment of Sonkar as the Mayor.

Disappointed by the conduct of the returning officer, who could be seen defacing the ballot papers on video to influence the election results, the Supreme Court summoned all records and videos of the polls to itself.

Advocate General of Punjab Gurminder Singh, Advocates RPS Bara, Ferry Sofat, Kuldeep Kaur appeared in the case for the petitioner-AAP councillor.

The Supreme Court today directed to treat the eight invalidated ballots as valid and recounting to be done and “results declared based on that.

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