Tamil Nadu

Recount postal votes in Radhapuram: HC

DMK candidate Appavu lost to AIADMK contestant Inbadurai by a margin of 49 votes

After finding that a Returning Officer (RO) had made a false assertion in his testimony on oath, the Madras High Court on Tuesday ordered recounting of postal ballots as well as votes recorded in some Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) during the 2016 Radhapuram Assembly constituency election when DMK candidate M. Appavu lost to AIADMK’s I. S. Inbadurai by a slender margin of 49 votes.

Justice G. Jayachandran ordered recounting of all postal ballots and votes recorded in EVMs which were taken up for counting during 19th, 20th and 21st rounds on May 19, 2016.

He directed the Election Commission of India (EC) to produce the control units of those EVMs as well as the postal ballots to the High Court’s Registrar General (R-G) C. Kumarappan on Friday besides deputing four experts to assist the recounting under the supervision of the court officials.

The interim orders were passed on an election petition filed by Mr. Appavu challenging the victory of Mr. Inbadurai. The judge said Mr. Appavu and Mr. Inbadurai would be entitled to be present, either in person or through their representatives, at the time of recounting in a hall to be allotted by Acting Chief Justice Vineet Kothari. Counsels representing both of them and the EC could also be present at the venue.

The R-G was further directed to submit a report in court immediately after the counting process. After pronouncement of the interim orders, a request was made on Mr. Inbadurai’s behalf to stay the operation of the order until he takes it on appeal to the Supreme Court.

The judge agreed to hear his plea on Thursday and directed his counsel to serve the application, seeking stay, on advocate A.E. Ravichandran representing Mr. Appavu.

Reservations expressed

In the meantime, advocate Niranjan Rajagopalan, appearing for the EC, too expressed certain reservations over bringing the postal ballot boxes and EVM control units from Tirunelveli to Chennai. A suggestion was made that the recounting could be held at the Tirunelveli Collector’s office itself under the supervision of judicial officers nominated by the court. Justice Jayachandran agreed to consider that request too on Thursday.

Providing reasons for ordering recounting of postal ballots, the judge said the RO, P. Muruganantham, had rejected 300 out of 1,508 postal votes. Around 203 of those were rejected because they had been attested en masse by two Middle School Headmasters who, according to him, were “not gazetted officers,” though the election rules specifically state that only gazetted officers should certify the identity of postal voters.

Why the recount?

For arriving at such a decision, the RO had sought the assistance of Tirunelveli Collector’s Personal Assistant (general) who, in turn, had obtained the opinion of District Elementary Education Officer. But various GOs issued since 1996 revealed that Middle School Headmasters were in the rank of gazetted officers and they were entitled to attest, the judge said.

Further, though the election rules state that the postal ballots must be recounted if the margin of victory was less than the number of postal votes polled, the RO had admitted that he declared Mr. Inbadurai a winner without recounting or reverifying the postal votes.

Such irregularities in the counting process might have materially affected the result of the election, the judge said.

In so far as the election petitioner’s claim that 348 votes were unfairly added in favour of Mr. Inbadurai during the 19th, 20th and 21st round of counting, the judge found the statuory forms to be filled during those rounds, in order to tally the number of votes polled and the number counted, did not contain the signatures of the RO.

False testimony

“The documentary evidence exposed the false assertion of Court Witness-2 P. Muruganantham in his testimony on oath.

“Therefore, this is not a case of a petitioner who had lost an election by a slender margin making all sort of allegations without basis or in an attempt to make a roving enquiry. This is a specific case of improper rejection of valid votes received through post and violation of rules during the 19th, 20th and 21st rounds of counting,” the judge concluded.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 9:19:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/recount-postal-votes-in-radhapuram-hc/article29569963.ece

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