Chandigarh Mayor Polls Returning Officer Served Notice By Supreme Court

The Supreme Court bench has directed contempt of court proceedings against the officer, Anil Masih

Chandigarh Mayor Polls Returning Officer Served Notice By Supreme Court
New Delhi:

The returning officer at the centre of Chandigarh vote-tampering row is guilty of misdemeanour and made a deliberate attempt to deface eight ballot papers so that BJP's candidate is elected the city's mayor, the Supreme Court held today.

The court has now directed contempt of court proceedings against the officer, Anil Masih. A showcause notice has been issued, and he has been asked to file a response in Punjab and Haryana High Court within three weeks. The returning officer was earlier removed as a member of the BJP's minority cell in the wake of a massive row over a video of him tampering with the ballot papers after the January 30 election.

The bench, led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, noted that all the eight ballot papers declared invalid by returning officer Anil Masih were in the favour of AAP candidate and petitioner Kuldeep Kumar. The court has now ordered that Mr Kumar will now take over as Chandigarh mayor.

"The Presiding Officer is guilty of misdemeanour. It is evident that the Presiding Officer has made a deliberate attempt to deface eight ballots which were cast in favour of the petitioner so that the eighth respondent will be declared as the elected candidate," the court said.

Mr Masih's conduct, the court said, has to be deprecated at two levels. "Firstly, he has unlawfully altered the course of Mayoral election. Secondly, in making a solemn statement before this Court on 19 February, the Presiding Officer expressed falsehood for which he must be held accountable," the court said.

The court's ruling against the poll officer came after strong observations on the viral video during the course of the hearing. Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud had earlier termed his act a "mockery of democracy". The officer was yesterday grilled in the court on why he was putting an "x" mark on the ballot papers. He replied that the ballot papers had been defaced and he was marking them so that they could be identified.

This morning, the video was replayed in Supreme Court and the bench held that the ballot papers were not defaced. 

Mr Masih had declared as invalid eight votes in support of the AAP mayoral candidate. This ensured the victory of the BJP nominee, even though the party had lesser votes than the AAP-Congress combine.

The court's order also puts an end to speculation that the BJP, which recently engineered a switchover by 3 AAP councillors, may eventually manage to hold on the Chandigarh civic body. The switchover meant that in the event of a re-election, the BJP would score more votes than the AAP-Congress alliance. The court, however, declined to order a reelection after noting that horsetrading is a serious matter.