What happens to the vote of an MLA who is disqualified due to conviction and sentence imposed on him on the day he cast his ballot for the Rajya Sabha polls but after he has voted?
The vote will still be valid, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde ruled on Friday, upholding the election of Dhiraj Prasad Sahu of Congress to the Upper House from Jharkhand in the elections on March 23, 2018.
His election was challenged by his BJP rival Pradeep Kumar Sonthalia — the value of votes secured by Sonthalia was 2,599, while Sahu got 2,600.
The dispute arose as one of the members of the Assembly, Amit Kumar Mahto of the JMM, who cast his vote at 9.15 am, was convicted by a trial court for various offences and sentenced the same day. The conviction and sentence were handed over at 2.30 pm. As the maximum sentence of conviction was two years, he stood disqualified as a member.
A complaint was lodged at 11.20 pm, requesting the Returning Officer to declare his vote invalid, but the official rejected it, saying he had not received the judgment till the declaration of the results.
Sonthalia approached the High Court and his election petition was dismissed in January 2020. He then moved the Supreme Court where Senior Advocates Mukul Rohatgi and K V Vishwanathan, appearing for him, contended that wherever a statute uses the word “date” with reference to an event, courts have always interpreted the same to have happened at the intersection of the previous day and the present day, namely 00.01 a.m. “This is firstly because it is at that time that the day begins and secondly because law abhors fractions,” they submitted, and said the conviction is deemed in law to have commenced at about 00.01 am when the date of March 22 lapsed and March 23 began.
It was established before the high court Mahto voted for Sahu.
Disagreeing with Sonthalia’s stand, the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, said, “The rule that a person is deemed innocent until proved guilty is a long-standing principle of constitutional law and cannot be taken to be displaced by the use of merely general words. In law this is known as the principle of legality and clearly applies to the present case.”
“In our view to hold that a Member of the Legislative Assembly stood disqualified even before he was convicted would grossly violate his substantive right to be treated as innocent until proved guilty,” it said.
The court said the disqualification “is the consequence of the conviction and sentence”. “In other words, conviction is the cause and disqualification is the consequence. A consequence can never precede the cause.”