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Chandigarh mayoral polls: Supreme Court calls it ‘murder of democracy’

The apex court says it is ‘appalled’ by seeing ‘what has happened’

2024 2largeimg 374334292CHANDIGARH: Terming the alleged defacing of ballot papers in the Chandigarh mayoral polls by the Returning Officer as “murder of democracy”, the Supreme Court on Monday asked him to appear before it on February 19 to explain his conduct.

“Please tell your Returning Officer that the Supreme Court is watching over him. We will not allow democracy to be murdered like this. The only thing…the great stabilising force in the country is the purity of the electoral process,” an angry Bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Returning Officer, after watching a video clip of his alleged misdeeds.

“We are simply appalled by what has happened…Is this the behaviour of a returning officer? He looks at the camera and defaces the ballot and obviously, where there is a cross at the bottom, he just keeps it in the tray. The moment there is a cross at the top; the man defaces the ballot and then looks at the camera to see who’s looking at him,” the CJI said, coming down heavily on the Returning Officer.

“The Returning Officer shall remain present before this court on the next date of listing to explain his conduct as it appears in the video,” the Bench ordered.

BJP candidate Manoj Sonkar had bagged 16 votes against the 12 received by the Congress-AAP candidate Kuldeep Kumar after eight votes were rejected in the January 30 polls to elect the Mayor of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation.

Issuing notice on Kumar’s petition challenging the results and seeking fresh election, the top court directed that the entire record pertaining to the election of the Chandigarh mayoral election shall be sequestered under the custody of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Registrar General.

“This shall include: (i) The ballot papers; (ii) Videography of the entire electoral process; and (iii) All other material in the custody of the Returning Officer,” it said, adding, “This exercise shall be carried out forthwith by 5 pm this evening.”

As Mehta said that the Returning Officer has handed over the entire record in a sealed format to the Deputy Commissioner, UT Chandigarh, on January 30, the Bench ordered, “The Deputy Commissioner, UT Chandigarh, shall comply with the above direction by handing over the entirety of the record to the Registrar General of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana for safekeeping and custody.”

The top court also ordered that “the ensuing meeting of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, which is to take place on February 7, shall stand deferred, pending further orders of this court.”

It faulted the high court for not taking immediate remedial measures. “Prima facie, at this stage, we are of the considered view that an appropriate interim order was warranted, which the High Court has failed to pass, in order to protect the purity and sanctity of the electoral process.”

On behalf of Kumar, senior counsel AM Singhvi alleged that a BJP candidate was chosen as the Returning Officer and he acted in a partisan manner by deliberately defacing eight ballot papers of Congress-AAP councillors and rendering their votes invalid. Punjab Advocate General Gurminder Singh and advocates RPS Bara, Ferry Sofat and Kuldeep Kaur also appeared for the petitioner.

Mehta contended that the video showed only one-sided picture and urged that the court should take a comprehensive view after seeing the entire records but the Bench was angry after watching the video.

The political fight between the AAP and the BJP over Chandigarh mayoral polls had reached the Supreme Court on Thursday with Kumar challenging the high court’s order refusing to stay the election results.

A Division Bench of Justice Sudhir Singh and Justice Harsh Bunger of the Punjab and Haryana High Court had on Wednesday denied relief to AAP, which had demanded fresh polls under the supervision of a retired high court judge, alleging tampering with ballot papers.

The high court had, however, issued a notice to the Chandigarh Administration and asked it to respond to Kumar’s petition in three weeks.

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