SC seeks EC reply on plea by 21 opposition leaders for verification of 50 pc VVPAT slips

The Supreme Court Friday agreed to hear the plea of 21 opposition leaders, led by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, seeking that VVPAT slips of at least 50 per cent of voting machines in each assembly constituency be checked randomly in the Lok Sabha elections.

The leaders from six national and 15 regional parties, claiming to represent 70-75 per cent of the population, have also sought the setting aside of the Election Commission of India (EC) guideline on random verification of one assembly seat.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that notice be issued to the EC, and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) should depute an officer to assist the court in the matter.

The bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, posted the matter for further hearing on March 25 and asked the ECI to file its reply in two weeks.

The parties include the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Aam Aadmi Party, CPI (Marxist), CPI, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Loktantrik Janata Dal and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

“The petitioners are presidents/ leaders of 21 different national and regional political parties (six out of seven national parties and 15 regional parties) across the country electorally representing about 70-75 percent of the people of India,” the plea said.

It has sought quashing of the EC guideline which provides that random verification of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips shall be conducted in one polling stations in case of assembly election and in each assembly segment in case of Lok Sabha election.

The plea also sought, “a further direction to the election commission for random verification of at least 50 per cent electronic voting machines (EVM) using the VVPAT per assembly segment/ assembly constituency”.

The plea referred to the 1975 verdict of apex court in the case of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which held that free and fair elections are part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India.

It also referred to the 2013 verdict of Supreme court in the case of BJP leader Subramanian Swamy where it was held that paper trail for EVM are an “indispensable requirement” for free and fair elections.

“The impugned guideline issued by Respondent No.2 (Election Commission of India) hits at the basic structure of the Constitution by making VVPAT completely ineffective and merely ornamental in nature as it translates to an actual check on less than 0.44 per cent of EVMs in the country.

“The said Guideline, therefore, defeats the entire purpose of introducing VVPAT and renders the judgment and directions passed by this court completely otiose,” it said.

The plea further stated that the guideline amounts to taking away from the left hand what was given by the right and reduce the safeguards and substantive essence of the judgments of this Court to a nullity.

“The petitioners submit that a procedural or executive instruction in the form of guidelines cannot render the main substantive safeguard nugatory, more so where the latter traces itself back not only to a Constitutional provision but, indeed, to the basic structure of the Constitution,” it said.

The plea further stated that the directions are being sought for giving effect to the judgment of this court declaring VVPAT as “integral and intrinsic to free and fair elections which, in turn are part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India”.

Naidu, the lead petitioner, had declared in February that the parties will be moving the apex court against the use of EVMs.

The move comes after the leaders of the opposition parties met at NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s residence.

The parties had raised apprehensions in a meeting with the EC in February about the credibility of EVMs, although the poll panel has denied allegations of machines being tampered with.

The EC, while announcing the Lok Sabha election schedule, had said that mandatory checking of EVMs and VVPAT will be done on the basis of one polling station for each Lok Sabha constituency.

Earlier, Kamal Nath and Sachin Pilot last year had approached the apex court for conducting VVPAT verification at least 10 per cent of randomly selected polling booths in each assembly constituency to ensure free and fair elections in MP and Rajasthan last year.

However, the apex court, which was dealing with other poll issues ahead of the assembly polls in MP and Rajasthan had refused to go into the VVPAT issue in its judgement delivered on October 12, 2018 saying these issues were dealt by the apex court in earlier petitions and orders have been passed.

SC refuses Cong plea for counting of VVPAT slips in Guj

SC refuses Cong plea for counting of VVPAT slips in Guj
SC refuses Cong plea for counting of VVPAT slips in Guj

The Supreme Court today refused to entertain a plea of the Gujarat Congress seeking counting of at least 20 per cent of the paper trail slips manually along with votes cast in the EVMs in each constituency of the state.

It said that the court cannot interfere unless the Election Commission of India’s decision to restrict the EVM- VVPAT paper trail to one booth per constituency is proved “arbitrary”, “illegal” or “malafide”.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud permitted petitioner Mohammad Arif Rajput, a Gujarat Congress leader, to withdraw his plea but granted liberty to file a comprehensive petition later seeking election reforms.

The apex court said that a debate on polls reforms can only take place after the election process in the state is over.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Rajput, said that the counting of the slips of the voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines along with the votes cast in the electronic voting machines (EVM) count in at least 20 per cent of the booths of each constituency would reassure the people about the fairness of the polls.

The bench then questioned the locus standi of the petitioner and asked Singhvi who he was representing.

The counsel replied that he was a secretary of the main opposition party Congress in Gujarat.

The bench told Singhvi that his client had approached it in his personal capacity and he should have let the party take a bold stand and approach the court.

Singhvi said, “I am an officer bearer of the party in the state.”

The court told the counsel that a candidate has every right to question the vote count before the returning officer.

“This court can’t interfere unless the Election Commission’s decision for a random check pf the EVM-VVPAT paper trail in one booth per constituency is proved arbitrary, illegal or malafide. We cannot discredit the Election Commission’s decision without cogent material,” it said.

After the top court said that it cannot override the EC’s complete discretion to conduct the polls, Singhvi scaled down his demand saying that counting of paper trails in at least ten per cent of the booths per constituency should take place.

The bench said that it had recently rejected a petition challenging the discretionary power of a returning officer under 56(D)(2) of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, which confers discretionary power on the returning officer to refuse counting of the VVPAT.

Singhvi again said that counting of the paper trail in a sufficient number will reassure the people about the fairness of the elections through the EVMs.

The court then permitted the petitioner to withdraw his plea but granted liberty to approach it with a comprehensive petition on electoral reforms which could be connected with the VVPAT issue.

( Source – PTI )

SC to hear plea by Congress party on Gujarat polls

SC to hear plea by Congress party on Gujarat polls
SC to hear plea by Congress party on Gujarat polls

The Supreme Court today agreed to hear this month end a plea by the Congress party seeking directions to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to frame guidelines for counting of votes through VVPAT machines in the upcoming Gujarat Assembly poll and other elections.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud sought the assistance of Attorney General K K Venugopal in the matter which is to be heard on October 30.

Prakash Joshi, secretary of All India Congress Committee, has moved the top court seeking a direction to the EC to install CCTV cameras inside the polling booth to watch the “mobility of persons inside”.

During the hearing, senior lawyers Kapil Sibal and Vivek Tankha, appearing for him, told the bench that this matter was required to be heard expeditiously as dates for the Gujarat Assembly elections were expected to be declared soon.

“Let a copy of the petition be served to the central agency so that we can have assistance of Attorney General,” the bench said.

The petition said the poll panel should be directed not to post any official, who is facing any inquiry or disciplinary proceedings, in key positions in the districts on contract basis or on extension of time from services.

The plea said they had made representations to the EC in raising these issues but no decision was taken by it.

It has also sought the apex court’s direction to the poll panel not to disturb the voters’ list without notice to the voters as well as the concerned political parties.

“…issue direction to install CCTV cameras inside the polling booth to watch the mobility of persons inside the polling booth and such videograph has to be displayed along with the number of votes poll, outside the polling booth on a display board,” the plea said.

The plea has said the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee had initially given a representation to the state election commission on September 21 expressing concern specifically regarding the comparison of electronic results with the paper trail results.

It said thereafter, another representation was filed on September 22 raising several issues, including framing of rules and guidelines for counting of votes through the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines.

The plea said the party had suggested to the poll panel to increase the visibility time of VVPAT paper trail from 7 to 13 seconds and hold random checks of the VVPAT machines.

It also said there should be video recording of paper trail prints which should be preserved for 120 days.

The plea said that though the EC said it would look into these issues, no decision has been conveyed to them so far.

In August, the EC had told the apex court that it would be able to conduct the Gujarat assembly elections using Electronic Voting Machines with paper trail.

The EC had told this to the court which was hearing a separate petition seeking direction for use of VVPAT machines in Gujarat Assembly polls.

( Source – PTI )

Defamation complaint against Rahul Gandhi, Yechury

Defamation complaint against Rahul Gandhi, Yechury
Defamation complaint against Rahul Gandhi, Yechury

An RSS activist has filed a complaint in a magistrate court here against Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury for allegedly linking the organisation to the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh.

“I have filed a case of criminal defamation and the hearing is likely to take place on October 22,” lawyer Dhrituman Joshi, who filed the complaint, said.

In the complaint filed on Friday, Joshi cited some purported remarks by Gandhi and Yechury and alleged that they had blamed the RSS for the murder.

“Statements made by the accused and the respective political parties are in utmost sense defamatory and belittle the RSS in the eyes of common public. There was a definite move by the accused to tarnish the image of the RSS, without citing any proof,” Joshi alleged in his complaint.

He said that being an RSS worker, he was humiliated and defamed before the common people.

The complaint claimed that the comments, which are “defamatory and detrimental to the image of the RSS”, have been made without any proof or official statement by the investigating authorities.

Joshi has also made the Congress, its president Sonia Gandhi and the CPI(M) as party to his complaint.

Journalist Lankesh was killed on September 6 by unidentified assailants at her residence in Karnataka.

Rahul Gandhi is already facing a defamation case in a court at Bhiwandi in Thane district over his alleged comment against the RSS regarding Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.

( Source – PTI )

No ‘name calling’ in Sunanda Pushkar case: Delhi HC

No 'name calling' in Sunanda Pushkar case: Delhi HC
No ‘name calling’ in Sunanda Pushkar case: Delhi HC

The Delhi High Court today asked a TV channel and the kin of Sunanda Pushkar not to indulge in “name calling” in connection with her death case but said there could be a possibility of some posturing from both sides.

The court was hearing Congress leader Shashi Tharoor’s plea seeking to restrain journalist Arnab Goswami and his Republic TV from alleged misreporting on his wife’s death.

Justice Manmohan made the observation after lawyers for both sides accused each other of not being careful while tweeting about the case as well as about each other.

Senior advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for Tharoor, said while the media house was now careful in how it reported about the case, some of its reporters were not exercising the same care while tweeting about it.

On the other hand, advocate Malvika Trivedi, who appeared for the media house, contended that Tharoor had also made endless tweets against it which, she said, were offensive.

Khurshid in response said that his client’s remarks about the media house were harsh and funny, but not defamatory and assured that such statements would not be made again.

The bench, thereafter, said, “A little bit of posturing does happen on both sides. As long as there is no name calling, the rhetoric comes down and they respect your right to silence, then it should be fine.”

During the hearing, the Khurshid said he does not want to gag the media and had never asked for a gag order.

“Investigation is their right. I am not objecting to it if they come out with something after their investigation.

Here, they have already held me guilty,” the lawyer said.

The channel said it was not misreporting the case or the facts.

The court, thereafter, told Tharoor’s lawyers to file their response to the affidavit filed by the journalist and the channel and listed the case for hearing on September 21.

The observations came during the hearing of the Congress leader’s Rs two crore defamation suit against Goswami and his channel.

Pushkar was found dead in a suite of a five-star hotel in south Delhi on the night of January 17, 2014 in mysterious circumstances.

( Source – PTI )

SC agrees to hear plea challenging Finance Act, 2017

SC agrees to hear plea challenging Finance Act, 2017
SC agrees to hear plea challenging Finance Act, 2017

The Supreme Court today agreed to hear a plea of Congress leader Jairam Ramesh challenging the constitutional validity of some provisions of the Finance Act, 2017 on the ground that these would destroy the independent functioning of the NGT and 18 other tribunals.

A bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud said that it would tag the plea with a similar pending petition filed by NGO Social Action for Forest and Environment (SAFE).

Senior advocate Mohan Parasaran, appearing for Ramesh, submitted that the power of judiciary has been compromised by the provisions of the new law.

The Finance Act, which came into effect from April 1, led to framing of the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2017 and these allegedly gave “unbridled” powers to the Executive to decide the qualification of the members, their appointment and removal among other issues.

The Congress leader sought declaration of various section of the Act as unconstitutional, null and void and the rules as “ultra vires” of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Act, 2010 and the Constitution.

In the earlier plea, the NGO had sought quashing of Part 14 of the Finance Act and Rules framed under it.

The bench, which had asked the ministries of law and justice and finance to respond to the plea, however, had refused to stay the operation of the provisions of the Act and the rules.

The petition has said the changes brought about by the Act would weaken functioning of tribunals including the NGT and curtail their powers.

It has said the tribunal rules gave primacy to the Executive in the appointment and removal process of the chairperson or president and judicial members of the statutory tribunals and authorities and it amounted to attempting to usurp judicial appointment powers and influence the administration of justice.

( Source – PTI )

Court seeks police reply on plea to de-seal Pushkar’s suite

Court seeks police reply on plea to de-seal Pushkar's suite
Court seeks police reply on plea to de-seal Pushkar’s suite

A Delhi court today sought a response from the city police on de-sealing a suite in a five-star hotel where Congress leader Shashi Tharoor’s wife Sunanda Pushkar was found dead in 2014.

Metropolitan Magistrate Pankaj Sharma asked the probe agency to respond by July 21 on the hotel’s plea which said it was ready to provide all the evidence to the probe agency whenever it needed.

According to the court sources, the counsel representing the hotel told the court that “As the room is locked for last three years, termites, bugs and other pests have spoilt the whole room and even the adjoining areas.”

The court had in May issued notice to the Delhi police on hotel’s plea seeking de-sealing of the suite number 345.

The hotel claimed that due to the sealing of the suite, which costs between Rs 55,000 and Rs 61,000 a night, the hotel has suffered a loss of over Rs 50 lakh in the last three years.

It claimed that a number of times, police and forensic teams had visited the suite and it was no longer required to be kept sealed.

“The hotel continues to suffer loss with each passing day. The continuous sealing of the suite is also affecting the use of other rooms/suites on the same floor,” it said.

The suite was sealed on January 17, 2014 during the investigation into the death of Pushkar. An FIR was registered by Delhi police on January 1, 2015 against unknown persons under the section of 302 (murder).

( Source – PTI )

Adarsh case: Guv can’t be made party to lawsuits, Chavan told

Adarsh case: Guv can't be made party to lawsuits, Chavan told
Adarsh case: Guv can’t be made party to lawsuits, Chavan told

The Bombay High Court today sought Congress leader Ashok Chavan’s stand to the CBI’s submission that the governor cannot be made respondent to his plea against the sanction to try him in the Adarsh housing society scam.

A division bench headed by Justice R V More gave this direction to Congress MP Chavan while hearing his plea against Maharashtra Governor C Vidyasagar Rao’s decision to grant sanction to the CBI to prosecute him in the scam.

Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, appearing for the CBI, told the court today that the governor cannot be made a respondent personally in a petition.

“The petitioner (Chavan) will have to delete the Governor’s name as respondent. The state government will have to be impleaded as respondent,” Singh said.

The court then directed Chavan’s counsel Amit Desai to reply to this argument by the CBI and posted the matter for further hearing on July 3.

In February last year, Governor Rao had granted sanction to the CBI to prosecute Chavan for committing cheating and other corruption offences besides hatching criminal conspiracy.

Chavan’s petition termed the governor’s order as “arbitrary, illegal and unjust” and passed without “proper application of mind” and with “malafide intentions.”

The CBI had accused Chavan of approving additional floor space index for Adarsh society in lieu of two flats for his relatives. He was also charged with illegally approving, as the then revenue minister, allotment of 40 per cent of the flats to civilians in the high rise in posh Colaba.

While the CBI named him as an accused in its FIR, in December 2013 the then Governor K Sankaranarayanan had refused permission to it to prosecute Chavan in the scam.

The high court, however in March 2015, had dismissed a plea made by Chavan, a sitting Lok Sabha MP now from Nanded, for deletion of his name from the case, as the governor had refused to grant sanction.

Following this, the CBI re-approached the Governor seeking sanction, which was granted in February 2016.

( Source – PTI )

Haryana land deals: Dhingra report talks about bureaucracy

Haryana land deals: Dhingra report talks about bureaucracy
Haryana land deals: Dhingra report talks about bureaucracy

Justice S N Dhingra, who headed a commission to probe alleged irregularities in land deals including those linked to Robert Vadra during the previous Congress government in Haryana, said his report is “important and full of facts” and highlights the working of bureaucracy.

He said the report has not yet come into the public domain but “once it sees the light of the day, people will come to know how the bureaucracy works”.

However, the retired Delhi High Court judge refused to be drawn into the controversy on the findings of a committee comprising three bureaucrats — Krishna Mohan, K K Jalan and Rajan Gupta which was set up by the then Bhupinder Singh Hooda government on October 19, 2012 and had given a clean chit on the land deal connected with Vadra.

While Krishna Mohan, who was the then Additional Chief Secretary and Financial Commissioner, Revenue and Disaster Management Departments, has retired, Jalan is at present the Secretary in the Union Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Gupta, who was the then Principal Secretary in the states’ excise and taxation department, is with the state cadre now.

It was reported that Jalan was the Principal Secretary, Town and Country Planning department, which had renewed the licence to Vadra in January 2011 and Ashok Khemka, IAS, who had found alleged irregularities in the land deals, had then raised objection to his appointment in the committee along with Mohan.

The CBI is also probing some of the land deals done during the previous Congress regime and the Supreme Court on April 12 while reserving its judgement on a batch of connected matters had said that “the CBI may conclude the pending investigation within a period of four months.”

The Haryana government in April had also filed Justice Dhingra commission’s report in a sealed cover in the apex court pursuant to its April 12 order.

The report was filed after a senior advocate, assisting it as an amicus curiae in the matter, had “pointed out that it has not been published on account of a statement made on behalf of the Haryana government in some proceedings pending in the High Court (Punjab and Haryana).”

The top court had noted that the report of the Justice Dhingra Committee “will have bearing on present proceedings.”

When the issue relating to land deals had reached the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Khemka had reportedly alleged that the then state government was misleading the court.

Justice Dhingra told PTI that his probe was independent and he was not concerned with the committee’s report which had held as “administratively improper” the October 15, 2012 order of Khemka, who as the then Director General, Consolidation of Holdings and Land Reforms-cum-Inspector General of Registration (DGCH), had cancelled land deal in Sikhopur village which was in favour of Vadra’s company Skylight hospitality.

The committee of bureaucrats, who were allegedly close to Hooda, had justified the land deal concerned by interpreting the provisions of the Consolidation Act 1948.

It had said “the sale and purchase of the land under the consolidation in an estate is prohibited without sanction of the Consolidation Officer only after notification of a scheme under section 19.

“Accordingly, as on September 18, 2012, the date when the impugned sale deed was made, at best it can be said that only a notification under section 14 (1) of the Act was in force and no scheme under section 19 was notified, therefore the impugned sale deed did not not require prior sanction of the consolidation officer and it cannot be declared violative of any law for this reason”.

Further, the committee had observed that Khemka’s October 15, 2012 order regarding cancellation of mutation was “administratively improper because the then DGCH (Khemka) had already been transferred out on October 11, 2012 and as such an important quasi-judicial order the nature of which has been discussed” should not have been passed by him after his transfer.

Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality had entered into the agreement with realty giant DLF for the sale of the land.

Hooda had filed a petition in November 2016 in the high court challenging the very constitution of the Dhingra panel, alleging that the government action of ordering the probe was “mala fide” and a result of political vendetta.

Without mincing any word either on the findings of the committee set up by the then Hooda government or on his report, Justice Dhingra said he was entrusted to look into the grant of licences for change in land use in four villages of Gurgaon, now Gurugram, and during the probe, largescale harassment of people owing land at the hands bureaucracy surfaced.

“There is a delay in making public my report but the purpose of my inquiry will not be defeated. Whenever, even after 10 years, the report sees the light of the day it will be relevant as my report is one which speaks about the working of the bureaucracy and how people are harassed. It is an important report full of facts,” he said.

However, the retired judge said he would only reiterate what he told in a press conference while submitting his report on August 31, 2016 that “Had there been no irregularity, I would have given one sentence report mentioning there is no irregularity. My report has 182-page. Without it (irregularity), I did not have any reason to write 182 pages.”

Haryana’s Manohar Lal Khattar government had on May 14, 2015 set up the one-man commission to probe issues concerning the grant of licence(s) for developing commercial colonies by the Department of Town and Country Planning to some entities in Sector 83, Gurgaon including mutation of land deal between Skylight Hospitality and DLF.

The commission formed under the commission of inquiry Act had examined the licences given by the then Hooda-led Congress government for the development of colonies, housing societies and commercial complexes in four Guragon villages of Sihi, Shikohpur, Kherki Daula and Sikanderpur Bada.

( Source – PTI )

Book MLA for forging medical papers: HC tells police

Book MLA for forging medical papers: HC tells police
Book MLA for forging medical papers: HC tells police

The Madhya Pradesh High Court today ordered police to register a criminal case against Congress MLA Kamleshwar Patel for allegedly forging medical documents to skip hearing of an election petition against him.

Justice Atul Shridharan directed the Bhopal police to register a criminal case against Patel, MLA from Sinhaval in Sidhi district.

“While hearing a petition challenging the election of Patel, the HC directed the police to register a criminal case against Patel for furnishing wrong information about his medical treatment in order to skip the hearings,” government advocate Geetesh Singh Thakur said.

Swaroop Narayan Dwivedi, who had contested the polls from Sinhaval as an independent candidate, had challenged Patel’s election in the high court in 2014 on the ground that the latter had allegedly adopted unfair means to win the poll.

The HC had earlier directed Patel to remain present for recording of statement on April 27. However, since Patel did not attend that hearing, the HC summoned him again, fixing May 11 for the next hearing.

Patel’s lawyer, however, informed the court that he was not able to make it to the hearing as he was admitted to a private hospital in Bhopal.

The high court then fixed May 17 as the next date of hearing. Patel’s lawyer, however, again told the court that he was in the private hospital till May 16 and then referred to AIIMS, Bhopal on May 17. Patel’s lawyer also presented the discharge certificate of the private hospital besides an affidavit to support his contention.

However, the petitioner’s lawyer presented various newspaper reports, which showed that Patel was present at a meeting held at the Congress party’s state headquarters on May 15.

During the hearing on May 17, the HC asked the Superintendent of Police, Bhopal to get the records of the private hospital and AIIMS to verify the Congress MLA’s claims. It also directed the SP to get the CCTV footage of the Congress office. He was asked to submit the report within 24 hours.

The high court found that the Bhopal SP’s report did not corroborate the claim of Patel’s lawyer. Doctors of the private hospital also did not back Patel’s claims.

( Source – PTI )