Chandigarh Mayor Poll: Presiding Officer admits putting marks on 8 Ballots; ‘He Must Be Prosecuted’, Says Supreme Court

CJI DY Chandrachud said a Supreme Court bench will examine the ballots on Tuesday (February 20). The bench was hearing the matter today and expressed its concern about the horse-trading that was taking place This is "….interfering with the electoral democracy by a Returning Officer is the gravest possible thing," SC said.

Chandigarh: During the hearing in the Supreme Court over the ballot-tempering issue in last month’s Chandigarh mayoral election, the election’s presiding officer Anil Masih admitted in person that he added a mark on eight cast ballots that he later declared invalid and which paved the way for the victory of the now-resigned BJP mayor, Manoj Sonkar. He however justified his act by saying that he put ‘X’ marks only on those ballots which were already defaced by councillors during the voting process.

Masih said he was separately marking them so that they wouldn’t get mixed up. To this, the bench of Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud remarked, “You [Masih] had to sign the ballot papers only. Where is it provided in the rules that you can put other marks in the ballot papers?” LiveLaw reported.

The SC was posing questions to Mr Anil Masih, the presiding officer of the mayoral elections as to the reason for his ‘unusual conduct’ while counting the votes. The bench also opined that Mr Masih should be prosecuted for interfering with the election process. The Court said that instead of ordering a fresh election, it would order the counting of votes based on the existing ballots by a neutral Presiding Officer. The Court directed that the ballot papers in the custody of the Registrar General of the High Court be produced before the Court tomorrow at 2 PM in accordance with relevant steps for the preservation of the ballot papers for the scrutiny of the court.

Mr. Anil Masih, is a nominated member of the Chandigarh Municipality and belonging to the BJP, was appointed as the Presiding Officer of the Chandigarh Mayor elections. On February 5, the Court had directed the personal presence of Mr. Masih, after seeing the videos which suggested that he had put marks on certain ballot papers to deliberately render them invalid, helping the victory of the BJP candidate. The Court had also remarked that what the Chandigarh mayoral elections had witnessed was a “murder of democracy.”

Later, it said it was deeply concerned about the horse-trading that was taking place.

On Sunday, although the BJP mayor, Manoj Sonkar, resigned from his post amid rigging allegations, three AAP councillors joined the party in order to turn the tide in its favour in the event of a repoll.

Reacting on the development, AAP supremo and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said in Delhi today said that Manoj Sonkar’s resignation proved that the elections were manipulated.

“Now when the BJP can’t win elections, our councillors are being purchased and broken,” Kejriwal said.

AAP Punjab spokesperson Malvinder Singh Kang said that earlier, the BJP’s wrongdoings were caught on camera and were noticed by the Supreme Court. Now, the BJP are poaching AAP councillors overnight with an ‘Operation Lotus’, he said.

“I don’t think there has been any bigger mockery of Indian democracy,” he added.

“The world is witnessing the BJP’s greed for power”, said AAP leader Saurabh Bharadwaj on Sonkar’s resignation and the alleged poaching of the three AAP councillors.

Today, Monday, February 19, in a detailed round of questioning by CJI DY Chandrachud, the Returning Officer, Mr Masih admitted that he did put certain marks on 8 ballot papers while the counting process was ongoing.

LiveLaw reports the exchange that may be read here.

In his defence, Mr Masih explained that he had only put markings (and not an X mark per say) on those ballot papers to ensure that they do not get mixed with other papers. He also informed that right when he did these markings, Mr Manohar and Mrs Premlata belonging to the AAP party came and started snatching and destroying the ballot papers. He further added that the Chandigarh Police Marshalls had to intervene and preserve the ballot papers amidst the said chaos.

The CJI however, still pressed as to what necessitated the presiding officer to make such marking in the first place. The bench asked him under which provision of the law was he entitled to make such markings, as his post as a presiding officer only allowed him to put his signature under each ballot paper and nothing beyond.

CJI : Ballot paper ko deface aap kyu kar rahe the? App aise kyu kare? Aapko sign karna hai? (Why did you deface the ballot papers? You had to sign the papers only. Where is it provided in the rules that you can put other marks in the ballot papers)

Masih: Sir I was highlighting that they are defaced

CJI : So it is admitted that you have put your marks on the ballot

Masih : Jee (yes) Sir

Considering the above response of the Officer, the CJI expressed his utter disappointment towards the flouting of duties as a Returning Officer which as per him deserved prosecution.

” His answer is very clear, he has to be prosecuted. I think interfering with the electoral democracy by a Returning Officer is the gravest possible thing.”

It was the claim of Mr Masih that he had only put marks on 8 ballot papers which were defaced. The bench took note of the fact that the present irregularities in the election process have led to horse-trading amongst political parties.

“The process of horse-trading which is going on is a serious matter…”

CJI directed that the Registrar General of the P&H High Court appoint a judicial officer who shall produce the ballot papers before the Court for their perusal.

The bench comprising the Chief Justice, DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra was informed that the incumbent mayor from the BJP has resigned. Then turning towards the solicitor general, CJI Chandrachud further said, “Mr Solicitor, he has to be prosecuted. He was interfering with [the] election process”.


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