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Democracy blown to the wind, says Calcutta High Court

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The Calcutta High Court recently said that ‘Democracy’ was blown to the wind in the recently concluded three-tier Panchayat elections in West Bengal’, while setting aside the election of a Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidate from a Panchayat Samiti.

In a judgment delivered on October 11, single-judge Justice Amrita Sinha noted that on the counting day, after the initial counting, the petitioner Tijendranath Mahato was declared winner and was sent back by the polling authorities that he would be given a ‘elected’ certificate on the following day. However, when the petitioner who initially won by six votes, went back home along with his polling agents, the authorities at the counting centre decided to recount the votes.

After recounting, which was done on a complaint by the TMC candidate, the said candidate was declared elected as he had received over 105 votes more than the petitioner.

The Court underscored that it was not convinced by the manner in which the recounting took place.

“There is absolutely no sanctity in the process of recounting. The same does not appear to have been conducted in accordance with the prescribed law. The conduct of the BDO does not appear to be fair, rather it appears that the said officer instead of acting in an unbiased manner, took up the cudgel to bat in favour of the candidate supported by the ruling dispensation,” the judge held.

The very concept of democracy in electing a candidate through a free and fair election process appears to have been blown to the wind, the Court underscored.

“If the same is allowed to continue then democracy will be at stake. The faith of the electors on the system will start weaning giving rise to corruption and breakdown of the democratic process. There can be no alternative to a free, fair and transparent election process, starting from the first to the last step. For the sole purpose of upholding the laws relating to elections, the result of recounting ought not to be given effect to. The result of initial counting ought to be treated as final declaration of result,” the bench held.

On account of recounting there has been a massive shift in the number of rejected votes, the Court noted.

“The mandate of the electors is reflected through the votes polled by them. It is the duty of the counting officers to count the polled votes properly. Valid votes ought not to be rejected and the invalid ones ought not to be counted. The votes polled cannot be counted over and over again. There has to be an end; a finality has to be reached.”

The Court noted that in the initial voting, the authorities had declared at least 127 votes as invalid as the ballot papers did not possess the signature of the Presiding Officer. However, in the second round of counting, more 192 votes were held to be invalid. And all this was done when the petitioner and his polling agents were not present in the counting centre.

“It is very strange to note that in the recounting process as many as 192 additional ballot papers stood rejected though at the time of initial counting 127 ballot papers were already rejected. The petitioner who won by six votes was later declared loser by 105 votes. The same implies that a good number of votes which were initially found to have been polled in favour of the petitioner later stood rejected,” the single-judge opined.

She further noted that the TMC candidate, who was declared elected after recounting, did not follow the rules and had raised a dispute regarding the initial counting only after the counting of Zilla Parishad was commenced.

The Court further noted that the Block Development Officer, who had decided to recount the votes, did not provide an opportunity to the petitioners or other candidates to inspect the 192 votes, which were held invalid in the second round of counting.

“Recounting the votes in the absence of the winning candidate, amounts to violation of the principles of natural justice embedded in the guidelines. Manipulation of result, as alleged by the candidate, cannot be ruled out. Transparency and fairness in the process of counting/recounting ought not to be compromised in any manner whatsoever,” the Court observed.

With these observations, the bench ordered the authorities to treat the petitioner to be an elected candidate instead of the TMC candidate.

Input Courtesy – Bar&Bench

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