Strong, dependable evidence needed in such cases: court

Courts look for strong, dependable evidence while dealing with petitions challenging the election of a Member of Parliament or Legislative Assembly and hence a heavy burden lies upon petitioners to prove charges of irregularities, corrupt practices and rigging, the Madras High Court has said.

Justice R. Banumathi made the observation while dismissing an election petition filed by an All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) candidate R. Rajendran against the election of Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) whip T. Velmurugan from Panruti Assembly constituency during the general elections held in May 2006.

The petitioner had contended that he lost the election by a margin of 148 votes only because of favouritism shown by the Returning Officer towards the PMK candidate.

He also alleged malpractice in counting of postal ballots and large-scale rigging in four booths of Puliyur Kattusagai village.

Mr. Velmurugan denied all allegations and refuted petitioner's contention that rural voters were not properly instructed about operating the electronic voting machines (EVMs).

The 2006 election was the third in which EVMs were used.

Agreeing with his submissions, the judge said: “EVMs are simple machines that can be operated easily by both polling personnel and the voters… In fact, voting by EVMs is simpler compared to the conventional system of ballot box… By and large, the rural and illiterate people would have no difficulty in recording their votes.”

She said that the petitioner had failed to substantiate his allegations that voters were not briefed about operating EVMs before polling process and that the display boards in many machines did not work properly when the votes were cast.

There was also no proof to show that any of the polling booth agents or voters had lodged complaints.

Adducing oral evidence before the court, the petitioner had contended that he was actually leading by 19 votes on completion of counting votes polled through EVMs and the tables turned only after the counting of the postal votes, which were brought to the counting hall by Thamaraikannan, an office-bearer of the PMK.

Refusing to accept the submission, the judge said: “A private individual bringing postal ballots is a serious allegation. But, such a serious allegation has not been averred in the election petition.” Further, the petitioner did not produce in court a complaint he had reportedly made in this regard to the Collector on the day of counting.

On charges of rigging and booth capturing, the judge said that EVMs were not as flexible as the conventional voting system, in which ballot papers could be stuffed in the boxes within minutes. The machines take time to record every vote and they could be switched off by election officials or the police in no time.

“In the absence of any contemporaneous records showing objection, the mere allegation of booth capturing cannot be sustained.”