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Chandigarh mayoral polls: SC slams returning officer, calls for ballot papers

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday ordered that the ballot papers and video that have been taken into custody by the Registrar General of Punjab and Haryana High Court according to its order, be produced before the apex court on February 20 at 2 pm. A bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra directed that the necessary security arrangements shall be made to ensure the safe transit and proper preservation and custody of ballet papers along with judicial officers. The bench expressed concern over the "horse trading" and slammed Anil Masih, the Returning Officer for the Chandigarh Municipal polls, saying he must be prosecuted for "defacing ballot papers".
"We are deeply concerned about the horse-trading which is taking place...," the bench said at the end of the hearing. The apex court was hearing a plea of AAP's councillor Kuldeep Dhalor after the BJP won the mayoral election following the Returning Officer's move of scrapping eight opposition votes. Aam Aadmi Party's councillor Dhalor lost the mayor election to Bharatiya Janata Party's Manoj Sonkar on January 30. Sonkar resigned from his post late on February 18, ahead of the resumption of hearing today in the apex court. During the hearing today, the bench asked Masih why he had made marks (ticks and x marks) on the ballot papers he was tasked to count. "This is a very serious matter. All that you say... if any falsehood you will be prosecuted... Why were you looking into the camera and putting marks in the ballot papers?" asked CJI Chandrachud. Masih, who was present in court according to the top court's earlier order, replied that he was just marking the ballot papers that were defaced and that there were so many cameras that he was just looking at them. He added that he had made the marks on eight ballot papers, only to set them apart. "That means you marked it. He has to be prosecuted. In an electoral democracy, this cannot be allowed," the bench said.
On the last date of the hearing, the top court came down heavily on the returning officer who held the Chandigarh Mayor elections saying he was "murdering democracy" and ordered the preservation of an entire record of the election process including ballot papers, videography and other material through Registrar General of Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The observations of the apex court came after it watched a video of the controversial election. BJP's Sonkar bagged 16 votes against the 12 votes received by Dhalor despite having 20 councillors. The action of rejecting eight votes of the AAP-Congress alliance as invalid had sparked allegations of vote tempering.
AAP councillor challenged a Punjab and Haryana High Court order that refused to grant any interim relief to the party seeking fresh mayoral polls in Chandigarh.
Dhalor, who lost the Chandigarh mayoral election, approached the apex court against the High Court's refusal to grant an immediate stay on the election result in which the BJP candidate was declared the Mayor. Punjab and Haryana High Court had denied interim relief to the AAP, which alleged that ballot papers had been tampered with and sought fresh polls under the supervision of a retired judge of the court. The appeal in the top court said that the High Court erred in not granting any interim relief to the AAP candidate in the form of a stay on the outcome of elections for the post of Mayor or directing the preservation of electoral records.

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