The Gujarat High Court, which is hearing the election petition challenging the 2017 assembly poll victory of BJP law minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, sought an explanation from the minister (who earlier held the revenue portfolio) about the recent promotion given to Deputy Collector Dhaval Jani, whose role as returning officer (RO) of Dholka constituency has been questioned by the petitioner.
Congress’ Ashwin Rathod, who has challenged Chudasama’s election, has accused Jani of illegally invalidating 429 postal ballots and alleged that it led to his loss in the election to Chudasama by a mere margin of 327 votes.
During the hearing, the high court in April found “glaring breaches” by Jani in his role as RO during that election.
Justice Paresh Upadhyay posed a query on Jani’s promotion on October 10, saying it is not being examined from the viewpoint of a service matter but arose under the circumstance where the Election Commission of India (ECI) had written to the chief secretary of Gujarat, instructing the government to initiate disciplinary proceedings and for “imposing major penalty”.
Jani, a Gujarat Administrative Service (GAS) officer, was promoted from Class-1 (junior scale) to Class-1 (senior scale), in a notification from the state government’s general administrative department (GAD) recently, upgrading him from Deputy Collector to Additional Collector of Metro Link Express for Gandhinagar & Ahmedabad.
Jani’s promotion was brought to the court’s notice during a hearing on October 10 by petitioner Ashwin Rathod. Following the court’s observation about “glaring breaches” by Jani, the Election Commission had taken him off election duties during the subsequent Lok Sabha polls held this year, and written to the Gujarat government, directing it to initiate “disciplinary proceedings” to “impose major penalty” on Jani.
The court on on Friday said, “Prima facie the petitioner’s case is that…respondent number 13 (Jani)…facilitated the MLA-making process of respondent number 2 (Chudasama) which then culminated in his being minister and (Jani) is now being facilitated by him (Chudasama)”.
Addressing senior counsel Nirupam Nanavaty who is representing the law minister Chudasama. Justice Upadhyay said, “…what is your stand (with respect to the promotion). It can be said that he is only respondent number 2 (and not a spokesperson of the government in the court) but if the returning officer is not ready to respond to the court’s query, it will have some bearing on one of the issues (of the petition).”
Furthermore, Chudasama’s stand with respect to Jani’s promotion gains importance in this petition, as the plaintiff had repeatedly told the court that a relationship was established between Jani and Chudasama when the latter was the revenue minister and the former was posted as deputy collector, the court observed.
Senior advocate Nanavaty assured the court that he will respond to the court’s query with accurate facts. The matter is expected to be heard next on November 15.
Meanwhile, senior advocate Percy Kavina, representing petitioner Rathod, concluded his submissions on why the court must call for the postal ballots. Anything less than the production of postal ballots would only lead to speculation, he said. Chudasama’s lawyer is expected to respond at the next hearing.