New Delhi, May 15 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Gujarat High Court order nullifying the election of Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, state’s Education and Law Minister, as an MLA in 2017 on the grounds of malpractices and manipulation.
A bench comprising Justices Mohan M. Shantanagoudar and R. Subhash Reddy issued notice to the petitioner, the Congress candidate Ashwini Rathod, who lost the election merely by 327 votes. “We stay orders like this all the time, we have done it in many cases”, said the bench.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing Chudasama, contended before the bench that there was no collusion between the minister and the Returning Officer, and that there was no link to establish “material benefit”.
The other counsel appearing for the minister argued that the High Court should have called for the 429 postal ballots, which were “illegally rejected” during the counting to examine if their rejection was in accordance with the rules.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Rathod, said if the votes had not been counted, these could not have been declared as rejected. Sibal argued that the Returning Officer gives a different version on postal ballots to the observer, and the form declares the final results.
“It shows collusion and mala fide” argued Sibal before the bench. He insisted that the High Court has said that the rules mandated the postal ballots be mandatorily counted before the results are declared. The bench replied that it was inclined to stay the High Court, which Sibal opposed.
Justice Shantanagoudar told Sibal the Returning Officer has given reasons for his decision. Sibal insisted that he did not agree. The top court issued notice and stayed the order.
On Wednesday, Chudasama, 70, moved the top court challenging the Gujarat High Court decision to quash his December 2017 election on the ground of malpractices and manipulation.
In the plea, Chudasama contested the High Court decision terming it erroneous, and in an interim prayer, sought stay on the High Court order till disposal of his appeal.
Rathod argued before the High Court that 429 postal ballot papers had illegally been excluded from consideration during the vote count by the Returning Officer, and that the election records were also tampered with.
“It is proved that 429 postal ballot papers were illegally rejected/excluded from consideration by the Returning Officer at the time of counting of votes in the election in question, as against the victory margin of 327 votes”, the High Court had observed.
Chudasama in his plea said: “The High Court has failed to appreciate the proper facts of the case and has reached a completely erroneous conclusion in holding the successful election of the petitioner as illegal and void.”
The plea said that a ballot only becomes a vote at Rule 54(7) which is when the covers in Form 13-B not already dealt with till Rule 54(6) are opened one after another and therefore, in the present case, what are rejected are only 429 postal ballots not votes.
He insisted that the High Court did not appreciate that the election petitioner has been unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt that corrupt practice has been committed by any person much less the returned candidate.
Chudasama was declared elected from 58-Dholka Constituency for the Gujarat Assembly Elections held on December 14, 2017.