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‘Defaced ballots’: SC summons Returning Officer of Chandigarh mayoral polls

New Delhi, Feb 5 : Observing that returning officer Anil Masih has “defaced the ballots” in the Chandigarh mayoral polls, the Supreme Court on Monday summoned the official in question to remain present before the top court on February 19 to explain his conduct.

“During the course of the hearing, the video has been played in court. 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,” said a bench presided over by CJI D.Y. Chandrachud in its order.

The bench, also comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, ordered that the entire record pertaining to the election, including ballot papers and videography footage will be sequestered under the custody of the Registrar General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court by 5 p.m. itself.

It ordered the Deputy Commissioner of Chandigarh UT to hand over the entirety of the record to the Registrar General of the High Court for safekeeping and custody.

Further, the apex court said that the ensuing meeting of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, which is scheduled to take place on February 7, will stand deferred pending further orders.

“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,” it added.

The directions were passed on a plea filed by INDIA bloc’s mayoral candidate Kuldeep Kumar against the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s refusal to stay the poll results held on January 30 for the post of Mayor.

In his plea, he had accused the Presiding Officer of resorting to fraud and forgery in the counting process and alleged complete departure of the practice and rules.

After perusal of the CCTV footage given in the pendrive by senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) councillor, the apex court said: “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?”

“We will not allow democracy to be murdered like this..Please tell your returning officer that there is a Supreme Court watching over him,” the top court told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the returning officer.

Further, the apex court observed: “It is obvious that he defaced the ballots. This man has to be prosecuted.”

The AAP-Congress alliance lost the contest despite having the maximum councillors as eight out of 36 votes were declared invalid by presiding authority Masih, a nominated councilor, with no voting rights. The BJP got 16 votes, while the AAP-Congress alliance had 12 votes despite having 20 councillors.