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Chandigarh

SC declares AAP’s Kuldeep Kumar as Chandigarh Mayoral poll winner

IANS | February 20, 2024 05:29 PM

NEW DELHI: Setting aside the election of the BJP candidate as declared by the Returning Officer, the Supreme Court on Tuesday declared AAP councillor Kuldeep Kumar as the Mayor of Chandigarh Municipal Corporation during the hearing on the contentious Chandigarh mayoral election case.

The apex court was dealing with a plea filed by INDIA bloc’s mayoral candidate Kuldeep Kumar accusing Returning Officer Anil Masih of allegedly "defacing the ballots" during the Chandigarh mayoral polls held on January 30.

Kumar had accused the Returning Officer of resorting to fraud and forgery in the counting process.

"Setting aside the election process itself would not be proper since the issue is only when the Returning Officer made the counting, " a bench comprising Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra observed.

The court also ordered prosecution of Returning Officer Masih for 'misdemeanour'.

"It is evident that Anil Masih is guilty of serious misdemeanour for deliberately defacing eight ballot papers. He must be held accountable" the CJI said.

Contempt proceedings has been initiated against Masih.

On Monday, the top court had said that it would examine the ballot papers of the Chandigarh Mayoral polls along with the entire video recording of the counting day on Tuesday, citing concerns about potential horse-trading.

Expressing the need for transparency and fairness in the electoral process, CJI Chandrachud stressed the importance of scrutinising the invalidated ballots.

On Monday, the court had directed the Registrar General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to assign a judicial officer to safely transport the records to Delhi.

CJI Chandrachud had stressed the urgency of the matter and declined a plea to postpone the hearing, citing ongoing horse-trading concerns.

Masih, appearing before the bench, had admitted to marking eight already defaced ballot papers with an 'X' and accused AAP councillors of creating disturbance during the process.

Masih had said that he had to monitor the situation via CCTV due to the disruptions caused by the AAP councillors.

The top court had summoned the official in question to remain present before it on Monday to explain his conduct.

After perusal of the CCTV footage given in the pen drive by senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the AAP councillor, CJI Chandrachud had orally observed: "This is a mockery of democracy. He is murdering democracy. Is this the behaviour of a Returning Officer, who looks at the camera and defaces the ballot? It is obvious that he defaced the ballots. This man has to be prosecuted.”

Deferring the February 7 meeting of the Corporation, the Supreme Court had ordered that the entire record pertaining to the election, including ballot papers and videography footage, would be sequestered under the custody of the Registrar General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The AAP and Congress’ joint candidate Kuldeep Kumar had petitioned the top court after the Punjab and Haryana High Court refused to stay the election results for the post of Mayor.

In his petition before the high court, Kuldeep Kumar had alleged complete departure from the practice and rules, saying that the Returning Officer refused to allow the nominees of parties to monitor the counting of votes. He also prayed for fresh elections in a free and fair manner under the supervision of a retired high court judge.

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