The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition filed by state Education Minister Bhupendra Chudasama seeking quashing of a petition moved by a Congress leader challenging his election in the last year’s Assembly elections. The Congress candidate Ashwin Rathod, who had lost to Chudasma from Dholka Assembly constituency by a margin of 327 votes, had moved the High Court claiming that postal ballots were not counted. He had claimed that the miscounting “was not mere an error on the part of the Returning Officer, but was a well-thought design by the present applicant (Chudasama)”.
Following this, Chudasama had moved the High Court seeking dismissal of the petition. He had claimed in his plea that the allegations levelled by Rathod against him lacked material evidence. He said that the allegations violated the requirement Section 83 (1) (a) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which states that “an election petition shall contain a concise statement of the material facts on which the petitioner relies”.
Justice Paresh Upadhyay, in a detailed order, dismissed Chudasama’s petition, while holding that “this court finds that, the election petition not only discloses the cause of action, it also contains sufficient details, with material facts, on which the petitioner relies, with statement, as required…” In regard to Chudasama’s contention that Rathod’s petition did not have sufficient material evidence, Justice Upadhyay said, “This court has found from the averments in the petition that the election petition also contains full particulars with regard to corrupt practice, as required under Section 83 (1)(b) of the Act, 1951.”
Before the Assembly elections in December 2017, Gaurang Prajapati was the Deputy Collector (SDM, Dholka), who would have been appointed the returning officer. However, he was transferred after the code of conduct came into force to be replaced by Dhaval Jani. Rathod has alleged that “the same was done to procure assistance for the furtherance of the prospects of the present applicant”.
The court order states that in violation of the instructions of the Election Commission of India (EC), the postal ballots were counted after the votes of the EVM. The EC had instructed that postal votes be counted before the votes EVM. The order reads, “It was realised that the margin was narrow, the exercise of counting of postal ballots was concluded and at that time, 429 votes were invalidated/ rejected, leading to declaring the respondent no.2 (Chudasama) as an elected candidate by the margin of 327 votes.”
Rathod, in his petition, had said that the declaration of these 429 votes invalid was illegal. “This Court has taken into consideration those averments and on that basis, satisfaction is recorded to the effect that, the election petition also contains full particulars with regard to corrupt practice, to be tried, as required under Section 83 (1)(b) of the Act, 1951,” Justice Upadhyay stated.
The election petition will, thus, require a trial to adjudicate. The results to elections on 20 Assembly seats, where the victory margin was thin, have been challenged in the Gujarat High Court. These petitions are pending for hearing.