The recent judgment in the case of Kisan Shankar Kathore, who won an Assembly election in Maharashtra in 2004, constitutes a significant decision.
It cannot be a happy experience for a lawmaker when a hard-fought election victory is nullified on a mere technicality. Yet, legislators should now be wary of hiding, or not disclosing, the required information when they contest elections. This is the key takeaway from the latest Supreme Court verdict on a candidate’s failure to disclose all the relevant details in the prescribed form in the nomination papers. The act of voting is a form of free expression, and this right requires that voters are aware of all relevant particulars of a contestant. This is why the current election law casts an obligation on candidates to furnish information relating to their criminal antecedents, educational qualifications and assets held by them, their spouses and dependant children. The landmark Supreme Court verdict in Association for Democratic Reforms (2002) established that the Indian voter has a right to have all such information. Viewed in this light, the recent judgment in the case of Kisan Shankar Kathore, who won an Assembly election in Maharashtra in 2004, constitutes a significant decision. The Court upheld a Bombay High Court judgment setting aside Mr. Kathore’s election on the ground that he had failed to disclose his wife’s ownership of a bungalow, the municipal dues on it, and assets of a partnership firm, and dues that he personally owed to the Maharashtra State Electricity Board.
While confirming this judgment, the apex court has laid down two key points: non-disclosure of the spouse’s assets, in this case, or, as a general rule, suppressing essential information or furnishing false or incomplete information will be a ground for setting aside an election. Secondly, the fact that suppression of relevant information is an independent offence in electoral law cannot be a reason for leaving the validity of the candidate’s election unquestioned. The question did arise whether the Returning Officer’s acceptance of the nomination papers at the filing stage would not go in favour of the winning candidate. The Court has made it clear that the Returning Officer cannot be expected to hold a summary inquiry into some disputed facts and reject the nomination on the spot. Rather, it is a question that ought to be decided in an election petition. Whether the non-disclosure amounts to a material lapse or not would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. The verdict places an additional burden on candidates to be diligent and conscientious in complying with norms of disclosure. At the same time, it is an uncomfortable truth that many years elapse before election petitions are decided, sometimes leaving invalid results survive the entire tenure of a legislature. It is incumbent on the courts to deliver speedier decisions on election petitions.
Keywords: Representation of the People Act, Supreme Court verdict, Kisan Shankar Kathore, nomination papers, non-disclosure of spouse assets, Election Commission, Returning Officer, Association for Democratic Reforms