We are disturbed with ‘horse-trading’ during Mayor’s election in Chandigarh : CJI

New Delhi, Feb 19 (UNI) Lashing out at the Returning Officer (RO) for the Chandigarh Mayor election, who could be seen defacing the ballot papers on video to influence the poll results, the Supreme Court asked, why he had made marks (ticks and x marks) on the ballot papers when he was tasked to count?

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra grilled Anil Masih, the Returning Officer (RO) for the Chandigarh Mayor election, and warned that he could be prosecuted if he made any attempts to lie to the Court.

‘Why were you looking into the camera and putting marks in the ballot papers?” asked CJI Chandrachud. “This is a very serious matter. All that you say if there is any falsehood you will be prosecuted, Justice Chandrachud added.

Masih who was present in court replied that he was “just marking” the ballot papers that were defaced and that he happened to look at one of many CCTV cameras in the counting area. Adding that he had made the marks on eight ballot papers, only to set them apart.

Not convinced by the RO’s explanation, the CJI said “You could have just signed the ballot papers … Why were you putting X on those ballot papers?… Which rule says that you can put ticks or X in those ballot papers? … He (Masih) has to be prosecuted,’ CJI Chandrachud said.

Notably, the mayor so elected resigned yesterday and three of the AAP Councillors defected to the BJP.

“We are disturbed with the horse-trading which had taken place,” the CJI said.

The bench ordered that all ballot papers (presently in the Punjab and Haryana High Court) along with the video of the counting process in the mayoral polls be produced before it by tomorrow afternoon.

The Bench said, ‘We will list the matter for tomorrow and see the ballot papers and decide what to do … This whole business of horse trading which is going on is very disturbing. Let all papers be produced before us by tomorrow noon,” the bench said.

“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 tomorrow 2 PM. The necessary security arrangement shall be made to ensure safe transit and proper preservation and custody of ballot papers along with judicial officers,” the bench said.

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

The bench directed to appoint a new returning officer for the municipal polls. The person who is not associated with any political party should be appointed, it said.

The court directed that the Registrar General of Punjab and Haryana High Court would oversee the process of counting, etc.

Earlier, BJP’s Manoj Sonkar was elected as Mayor on January 30 after he bagged 16 votes against the 12 votes received by the Congress-AAP candidate Kumar.

The BJP win came even though the AAP-Congress alliance had a majority in the house with 20 members. Eight votes were rejected in the process as invalid, which constituted votes of the AAP-Congress alliance.

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.

Kuldeep Kumar initially approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court for relief and a probe in the matter, alleging fraud in BJP’s win and forgery in the rejection of the eight votes.

However, the High Court refused to stay the polls issued a notice, and listed the matter for hearing after three weeks. Kumar then moved the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the operation of the notification issued for the appointment of Sonkar as the Mayor.

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

During the last hearing, the Supreme Court had taken strong exception to the Returning Officer’s conduct after noting that he could be seen defacing the ballot papers on video to influence the election results. The CJI had categorically blamed the Returning officer and said, He needed to be prosecuted and commented, “This is murder of Democracy.”

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