The apex court has held that every voter has a fundamental right to know the educational qualifications of a candidate. A bench of Justice Anil Dave and Justice L Nageshwar Rao dismissed the appeals filed by Mairembam Prithviraj Singh and Pukhrem Sharatchandra Singh. Both of them contested the Manipur Legislative Assembly elections from the Moirang constituency. While Mairembam who contested on a Nationalist Congress Party ticket won, his election was declared void by the High Court of Manipur. Both the appeals challenged the judgement of the High Court.
Mairembam, in his nomination papers had declared that he was a Masters in Business Administration from Mysore University, which turned out be false. This was revealed when his opponent, Sharatchandra filed an election petition before the Guwahati high Court. Mairebham said that although he always wanted to get an MBA degree on correspondence, he could not and such a declaration was merely a “clerical error”. This claim was refuted by Senior Counsel Meenakshi Arora who appeared for Sharatchandra. She said that the same declaration was made by Mairebam in 2008 assembly elections as well.
This declaration on part of Mairembam regarding the MBA degree was challenged even before his election by his opponent, during the process of filing the nomination. Although the returning officer had then asked for relevant documents, Mairembam’s failure to provide the same did no change anything. His nomination was still accepted.
In view of the above fact, the bench also held that in a case like this, where only two candidates are contesting and the nomination of the returning candidate has been “improperly accepted” then the onus of proving that the election was “materially effected” did not lie with the opposing candidate.
The bench said- “A voter is first citizen of this country and apart from statutory rights, he is having fundamental rights conferred by the Constitution. Members of a democratic society should be sufficiently informed so that they may cast their votes intelligently in favour of persons who are to govern them. Right to vote would be meaningless unless the citizens are well informed about the antecedents of a candidate. There can be little doubt that exposure to public gaze and scrutiny is one of the surest means to cleanse our democratic governing system and to have competent legislatures.”
“It is also clear from the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1951, Rules and Form 26 that there is a duty cast on the candidates to give correct information about their educational qualifications.”
Read the Judgment here.