Elections are not athletics to declare joint winners: HC

Judges uphold Constitutional validity of draw of lot to break a tie to post of village panchayat president

Observing that elections are not athletics or academic pursuits where joint winners can be declared, the Madras High Court has upheld the constitutional validity of two crucial provisions of the Tamil Nadu Panchayats (Elections) Rules of 1995, which provide for draw of lot to declare the winner to the post of village panchayat president if the top two contestants in the election had secured exactly the same number of votes.

Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and Justice Subramonium Prasad said, that in case of a tie between two candidates, there could be other alternatives such as ordering re-election, allowing both to work on a 50:50 tenure basis or giving one more opportunity to those who had not cast their votes, but it was up to the legislators to deliberate and figure out the best option among them and not for the court to suggest.

The judges dismissed a writ petition filed by K. Devadass who had contested for the post of president of Adaiyur village panchayat in Tiruvannamalai district in December last. The petitioner and his rival candidate M. Kalaivani had secured 905 votes each at the hustings couple with one postal vote each to their credit. Since both of them got 906 votes each resulting in a tie, Ms. Kalaivani was declared elected through draw of lot.

Petitioner’s counsel M. Radhakrishnan questioned the validity of Rule 67(1)(c) of the 1995 Rules on the ground that it violates the right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution. He contended that a statutory rule could not encourage a procedure dependent upon luck instead of adopting a rational procedure informed by reason. He also argued that a democratic process could not be converted into a game of chance.

Disagreeing with him, Chief Justice Sahi, at the outset, pointed out that the petitioner would not have challenged the validity of the rule if he had turned successful in the draw of lot. Subsequently, upholding the legal validity of the methodology adopted to declare winners in the case of a tie, he said: “It is a conscious exercise of the legislative will through a law to resolve a tie and is not a game or recreation for gamble or pleasure. “The purpose is to install and give life to an electoral impasse... We should not forget that here that chance is not by way of providence but by man-made law to govern himself. In this context, it would be apt to quote (French philosopher) Voltaire, who said ‘Chance is a word void of sense; nothing can exist without a cause.’ The cause here is the reception of equal number of votes by two candidates under a legally adopted method of casting of votes.”

Stating that draw of lot would be equally advantageous to both the candidates facing a tie, the Bench led by the Chief Justice said: “A decision by draw of lots, therefore, is neither disproportionate nor arbitrary as it gives an equal portion of opportunity to both the candidates through a legally formalized method and which in no way either affects the statutory rights of a candidate or the constitutional rights of either the voters or the candidates.” The judges said the outcome might give rise to a sense of injustice or a feeling of defeat to one candidate, but that could not be a reason to strike down a legal provision.

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