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"Central Armed Forces Will Be Deployed In Border Stations": EC Assures Kerala HC In Plea For Preventing Double Voting In Border Constituencies

Lydia Suzanne Thomas
3 April 2021 1:54 PM GMT
Central Armed Forces Will Be Deployed In Border Stations: EC Assures Kerala HC In Plea For Preventing Double Voting In Border Constituencies
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“The respondents have a duty to see that double voting is not permitted”, Justice Nagaresh urged the Election Commission on Saturday

In a special sitting on Easter's eve, the Kerala High Court considered the petitions filed by Congress candidates EM Augusthy, D Kumar, Cyriac Thomas and Shanymol Usman alleging the existence of double entries in the constituencies of Udumbanchola, Devikulam, Peerumedu, and Aroor.A Bench of Justice N Nagaresh disposed of their petitions on Saturday.Kerala goes to the polls on Tuesday,...

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In a special sitting on Easter's eve, the Kerala High Court considered the petitions filed by Congress candidates EM Augusthy, D Kumar, Cyriac Thomas and Shanymol Usman alleging the existence of double entries in the constituencies of Udumbanchola, Devikulam, Peerumedu, and Aroor.

A Bench of Justice N Nagaresh disposed of their petitions on Saturday.

Kerala goes to the polls on Tuesday, that is, on April 6, 2021.

Voters coming into constituencies in Idukki from Tamil Nadu to cast vote - Petition by EM Augusthy, D Kumar, Cyriac Thomas

Augusthy, Kumar, and Thomas, candidates in the Udumbanchola, Devikulam and Peerumedu Assembly constituencies on Idukki District, moved the High Court seeking the Court's intervention against the casting of votes by persons having their name registered in the constituencies of Udumbanchola, Devikulam and Peerumde in the State of Kerala as well as in various places in Tamil Nadu.

The three constituencies share a boundary with the Bodinaykannor, Cumbum and Theni Legislative Assembly constituencies of the State of Tamil Nadu. The petitioners allege that a large number of voters in the petitioners' constituencies are also registered in the electoral rolls of the Bodinaykannor, Cumbum and Theni Legislative Assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu.

Contending that the voters are migrant labourers resident in Tamil Nadu, it is alleged that many of them were entering the petitioners' constituencies only to cast their votes in the election.

"During the time of election, these persons would cast their votes in the constituencies in both the states, which would essentially defeat the entire mandate for a free and fair election. This method is in fact a thread (threat) to the process of democracy", the petition stated.

Alleging that Returning Officers and Assistant Returning Officers on deputation to the Election Commission were aligned with the party in power, it is claimed that this "unprecedented political allegiance" acts as a hindrance to the fair conduct of the election process.

"It is submitted that the inclusion of persons in the electoral rolls of both the States can easily be identified through a mere perusal of the voters list published by the Election Commission itself", the petition stated.

The petitioners assert that election officials were complicit in the process, evidenced by the inclusion of these voters in the voters' list.

Despite some measures such as blockade of border roads for a while on election days, these were removed and voters permitted to cross over and cast their votes on the date of polling, Senior Advocate George Poonthottam argued for the petitioners.

Therefore, the petitioners' counsel urged the Court to issue a direction that Central Forces be deployed during the election, to prevent 'bogus' voters from crossing the border to Kerala.

Responding to these concerns, the Standing Counsel for the Election Commission Deepu Lal Mohan placed on record a communication between the Iddukki District Collector and the Chief Election Commissioner, Thiruvnanthapuram explaining steps taken to prevent bogus votes likely to be cast by persons coming from the neighbouring States.

Referencing the letter, Justice Nagaresh found that it was evident that the District Electoral Officer has already decided to deploy Central Armed Police as Static Teams in the check posts on the date of polling as well as on the pre-poll day.

The Court stated,

"The District Police Chief, Idukki, in letter dated 02.04.2021 to the District Collector, Idukki WP(C) No.8890/2021 6 has stated that on pre-poll day and on polling day, Central Armed Police Forces will be deployed as static teams in the four border stations and they will also be made available in the check posts".

Holding that the Commission has taken all possible steps to prevent bogus voting by persons coming from across the border, the writ petition was disposed.

"This decision will be implemented without fail", the Court insisted.

Permission to videograph the voting process - Petition by Shanymol Usman

Shanymol Usman, a candidate contesting in Aroor Legislative Assembly Constituency sought a direction from the Court to permit videography of the polling proceedings in booths where there are double votes, at her expense.

Claiming that there are more than 2573 double votes in her constituency, she asserted that the Cgief Electoral Officer took no positive action to remedy the situation and avert the possibility of double voting.

The petitioner pointed out that as per an Election Commission Circular dated 17.01.2007 video or digital photography of the proceedings inside the polling station is permitted. Additionally, the Court'sdirections when disposing the petition by Kerala Legislative Assembly Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala were also referred, along with the Supreme Court's directive in Janak Singh v. Ram Das Rai and Others in which the Court suggested installation of electronic gadgets for video recording inside the polling station.

If videography of the proceedings in these booths is permitted, the casting of double votes can easily be curbed, the petitioner's counsel Senior Advocate George Poonthottam asserted.

The Standing Counsel for the Election Commission Deepu Lal Mohan contended that the Election Commission has already made arrangements for webcasting of electoral proceedings in 46% of the polling stations.

Apart from this, the Election Officers have conducted a verification, prepared a list of Absentee-Shifted-Dead voters and handed the same to all political parties. He submitted that political parties themselves were at liberty to give a list of such double voter entries, to the Commission, which would verify and monitor votes by such persons.

In the upcoming Assembly Elections, voters whose names appear more than once in electoral rolls are allowed to leave the polling booth only after the indelible ink has dried, the Election Commission informed the court. These steps would be sufficient, it was underscored.

To this, the Counsel for the petitioner raised apprehension that double voting could take place in any of the booths not covered in the 46% intended to be videographed by the Election Commission. In this light, all the booths listed by the petitioner would have to be videographed.

The Court ruled that no direction that affected the free flow of the election could be issued to the Election Commission since less than 72 hours remained till election day.

However, the Court emphasized that the Election Commission had a duty to ensure no double voting took place.

It was stated,

The respondents have a duty to see that double voting is not permitted and necessary effective remedial measures are taken following the general guidelines given by the Division Bench of this Court in W.P.(C) No.8034/2021.

The Court directed the Election Commission to consider whether the booths listed by the petitioner would be among those videographed by the Election Commission. If the booths did not figure on the list, the Election Commission could consider the number of double votes existing in those booths and consider the feasibility of webcasting or videographing the election process inside the booths in question.

EM Augusthy v. Election Commission - Click here to download the judgment

Shanimol Usman v. Election Commission - Click here to download the judgment



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