Any attempt of booth capturing or bogus voting should be dealt with iron hands because it ultimately affects the rule of law and democracy, the Supreme Court said on Friday while dismissing appeal of men convicted for rioting at a poll booth in Jharkhand.
Referring to its earlier verdicts, a bench of Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice M R Shah said freedom of voting is part of freedom of expression and secrecy of casting votes is necessary for strengthening the democracy.
"The essence of the electoral system should be to ensure freedom of voters to exercise their free choice. Therefore, any attempt and of booth capturing or bogus voting should be dealt with iron hands because it ultimately affects rule of law and democracy," the bench said.
Observing that in elections to the Lok Sabha and state legislatures maintenance of secrecy is a must, the bench said in democracies where direct elections take place it is important to ensure that voter casts his vote without fear and being victimised if his vote is disclosed.
"Democracy and free elections are part of the basic structure of the Constitution. An election is a mechanism that ultimately represents the will of the people. Nobody can be permitted to dilute the right to free and fair elections," the bench said.
The top court dismissed the appeal filed by Lakshman Singh and others who were convicted under sections 323 (voluntary causing hurt) and 147 (rioting) of the Indian Penal Code. It said that since the state has not preferred the appeal against six-month imprisonment awarded to Singh, it rests the matter there.
As per the case of the prosecution, an FIR was lodged at Paatan Police Station on November 26, 1989 alleging that on the eve of general election, the complainant was working as a worker of Bhartiya Janta Party at village Golhana Booth No. 132 under Paatan Police Station and was issuing slips to the voters.
At around 10:40 am the accused persons who belong to another village Naudiha came armed with lathis, sticks, country made pistols and asked him to stop issuing voter slips and handover the voters list which he was possessing and on his refusal the accused persons started physically beating him.
After conclusion of the investigation, the investigating officer filed charge sheet against 15 accused including the appellants and the trial Court framed the charge against the accused persons for the offences under Sections 323, 307, 147 of the IPC.
The top court said once the unlawful assembly is established in prosecution of the common object, i.e., in the present case, "to snatch the voters list and to cast bogus voting", each member of the unlawful assembly is guilty of the offence of rioting.
"The use of the force, even though it be the slightest possible character by any one member of the assembly, once established as unlawful constitutes rioting. It is not necessary that force or violence must be by all but the liability accrues to all the members of the unlawful assembly," the bench said.
The top court said the appellants are rightly convicted under Sections 323 and 147 IPC and sentenced to undergo six months simple imprisonment only for the said offences.
The top court directed all the appellants to surrender forthwith to serve out their sentence.
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