Lok Sabha Election 2019

Madras High Court upholds President’s decision to cancel Vellore poll

At a special sitting, judges dismiss pleas by two candidates

The Madras High Court, at a special sitting on Wednesday, dismissed two writ petitions filed against the President’s decision to rescind the poll notification for the Vellore parliamentary constituency in the wake of complaints of large-scale distribution of cash to voters.

Justices S. Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad rejected identical writ petitions filed by AIADMK candidate A.C. Shanmugam (of the New Justice Party) and independent candidate K. Sugumar, who sought a direction to the Election Commission (EC) to conduct polls for the Vellore constituency along with 38 others in the State on Thursday.

The judges rejected the petitioners’ contention that the Constitution does not confer upon the President any power to countermand an election and, therefore, a gazette notification issued by the Union Ministry of Law and Justice on Tuesday notifying the decision of the President to rescind the poll notification should be declared ultra vires.

They pointed out that it was the EC that had made the recommendation for countermanding the polls to the President on Sunday by exercising powers conferred on it under Article 324 of the Constitution, Section 21 of the General Clauses Act of 1897 and other enabling powers aimed at ensuring the conduct of free and fair elections.

Since it was the President who had notified the polls on March 19 on the basis of a recommendation made by the EC and by exercising powers conferred on him under Section 14 of the Representation of the People Act of 1951, he was right in partially rescinding the notification on the basis of EC’s subsequent recommenation, the judges said.

They also agreed with EC counsel Niranjan Rajagopalan that the decision to rescind the poll notification for Vellore was not taken overnight and was, in fact, a well thought out decision taken on receipt of multiple reports from the Income Tax department, two Expenditure Observers, a Special Expenditure Observer and the Chief Electoral Officer.

On March 30, the EC received a preliminary report from the Nodal Officer of Election Expenditure Monitoring team of the Income Tax department regarding recovery of ₹19.57 lakh from the residence of DMK treasurer Durai Murugan, the father of D.M. Kathir Anand, the party’s candidate from Vellore. Of the seized amount, ₹10.57 lakh remained unexplained. Subsequently, on April 5, the Director General of Income Tax (Investigation) sent a report to the EC that ₹11.48 crore was seized from cartons, gunny bags and plastic bags during raids conducted in the residence of Damodaran, brother-in-law of DMK functionary Poonjolai Srinivasan on April 1.

Cash distribution on

The labels on the cash bundles revealed that they were meant to be distributed at the rate of ₹200 per vote to “remaining” voters in the constituency. Stressing upon the word ‘remaining’ in the DGIT’s report, the judges said it clearly revealed that cash had already been distributed to many voters and what was seized was actually the money meant to be distributed to others. Therefore, the writ petitioners were not right in arguing that the I-T department had completely prevented distribution of money through its seizures and so countermanding of election was unnecessary, the judges said.

On the other argument of the petitioners that the EC ought to have disqualified Mr. Anand if cash had been seized from him and not countermanded the entire election, the judges said the Representation of the People Act did not contain any provision for disqualifying a candidate on the basis of seizures.

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Printable version | Jul 8, 2020 7:35:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/hc-upholds-presidents-decision-to-cancel-vellore-poll/article26867963.ece

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