The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday sent notices to the returning officer (RO) and the general observer of Dholka constituency over the election petition filed by Congress leader Ashwin Rathod challenging the victory of BJP’s cabinet minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama in the 2017 Assembly elections.
The court noted that many instructions of the Election Commission of India (ECI), including some mandatory ones, had been violated by Returning Officer Dhaval Jani at the time of counting of votes.
The court said that given the “glaring” breaches and violations observed in the case, it “thought it prudent to put the facts to the notice of the ECI, so that it can consider and look into it and take appropriate corrective/preventive measures, if it so desires.” It made the ECI a respondent in the case, but the election body will not be treated as a contesting party.
Jani had deposed as a witness in the ongoing trial based on Rathod’s petition. Chudasama had won from Dholka by a mere margin of 327 votes. Rathod, in his petition, alleged that Jani wrongfully invalidated 429 votes cast through postal ballots leading to his defeat. The court Justice Paresh Upadhyay also noted that “the number of rejected postal ballots (429 votes) were more than the winning margin (of 327 votes) of the returned candidate (Chudasama).”
Minister Chudasama holds the portfolios of Law & Justice, Education, Higher & Technical Education, Legislative & Parliamentary Affairs, Salt Industry, Cow Breeding and Civil Aviation.
“It has come on record, through the evidence of the Returning Officer himself, that many instructions of the Election Commission of India, including some of the mandatory instructions (at least on seven counts) were violated by the Returning Officer, on the day of counting of votes, of the Election in question,” the court said, reasoning why it was making the RO a respondent.
The observer, Vinita Bohra, was also made a respondent, as her written affidavit states: “After having satisfied myself about the fairness of counting of votes and complete accuracy of compilation of result in Form No 20, I hereby authorise the Returning Officer of 58-Dholka Assembly Constituency to declare the result.”
The court has also taken note of several violations by Jani as gathered from his deposition. These pertain to rules involving the use of mobile phones inside the counting hall, instructions of mandatory recount of postal ballots and mandatory re-verification of postal ballot, timing of commencement of counting of votes for the penultimate round of EVMs, filling up of Form-20 (result sheet) and videography of the counting process.
All the respondents have been given two weeks’ time to respond. The next hearing is scheduled for April 16.