On Friday, the Supreme Court stayed the Gujarat High Court’s order which held the 2017 election of BJP leader Bhupendrasinh Chudasama to the Gujarat State Legislative Assembly, as null and void.
A division bench comprising of Justices Mohan M Shantanagoudar and R Subhash Reddy has passed an interim order and issued a notice in the matter.
On 12th May, Gujarat High Court had set aside Chudasama’s 2017 election as void and illegal, citing manipulation and malpractice.
Ashwin Rathod, the Congress’s candidate, who was the runner up in the election, had challenged the BJP leader’s victory by a slender margin of 327 votes. After 73 hearings, the high court agreed with the petitioner’s arguments that 429 postal ballot votes were illegally canceled and also found several breaches of election rules.
In his petition, Rathod said that Chudasama had indulged in “corrupt practice and breach of many of the mandatory instructions of the Election Commission, at various stages of the election process, more particularly at the time of counting of votes”. He further stated that 29 votes cast through electronic voting machines (EVMs) were not counted by the officers. There was a difference of 29 votes between “1,59,946 votes in the voters turnover report of the returning officer and 1,59,917 votes in the final declaration of result made by the returning officer” the petition claimed.
Justice Paresh Upadhyay of Gujarat High court held that “Chudasama indulged in “corrupt practice” under section 123 (7) of the Representation of People Act 1951 and was “hand-in-gloves with the then returning officer Dhaval Jani, and declared the election void.
Subsequently, Chudasama filed an appeal against Gujarat High Court order. Senior Advocates Harish Salve and Neeraj Kishan Kaul appearing for Chudasama mentioned to the court that “It is not for the Returning Officer to just be ready and willing to be examined; he HAS to be examined. There was no corrupt practice involved as the transfer of officers had taken place under the Election Commission instructions.” Advocate Kaul further stated that there was no link between the Minister and the Returning Officer, Dhaval Jani. “How is there a material benefit established? I am looking at the Education and Law Minister, having been unseated during the times of COVID,” he asserted.
Meanwhile, Advocate Kapil Sibal appearing for Ashwin Rathod stated “There is a Form 20 signed by the RO. It says that 429 postal ballots were rejected, but the RO told the Observer that no ballot was rejected.” However, the Bench said that the RO had submitted a written statement, giving reasons for rejection, for which Sibal reiterated his submission, “But, if they were never counted, how can they be rejected? EC instructions say that you have to count if the victory margin is less. In this case, it is 327 ballots. Postal ballots are 429. See the collusion. This deeply malafide.”
Justice Shantanagouda then informed the lawyer that the Gujarat HC order needs to be stayed and issued a notice in the matter.