New Delhi: With the elections often getting vitiated by electoral malpractices and irregularities, courts are duty-bound to examine the petitions of defeated candidates and preserve the purity of the election process, the Supreme Court has ruled.
"An election which is vitiated by reason of corrupt practices, illegalities and irregularities enumerated in Sections 100 and 123 of the Act (RP) cannot obviously be recognised and respected as the decision of the majority of the electorate.
"The courts are, therefore, duty-bound to examine the allegations whenever the same are raised within the framework of the statute without being unduly hyper-technical in its approach and without being oblivious of ground realities," the apex court said.
A bench of Justices T S Thakur and Gyan Sudha Misra made the observations while dismissing Andhra Pradesh Minister Ponnala Lakshmaiah`s appeal challenging the state high court`s decision to entertain an election petition by TRS leader K Pratap Reddy, defeated from from the minister`s Janagaon Assembly constituency, in the 2009 election.
Lakshmaiah had challenged the election petition on the ground that it failed to disclose certain facts and was not backed by proper affidavits. Reddy had challenged the election on the grounds of irregularities in the counting of votes resulting in his defeat.
"There is no denying the fact that the election of a successful candidate is not lightly interfered with by the courts. The courts generally lean in favour of the returned candidates and place the onus of proof on the person challenging the end result of an electoral contest.
"That approach is more in the nature of a rule of practice than a rule of law and should not be unduly stretched beyond a limit. We say so because while it is important to respect a popular verdict and the courts ought to be slow in upsetting the same, it is equally important to maintain the purity of the election process, " the court said.
Stating that electoral reforms are the crying need of the time, the bench said public confidence on not only the democratic process but also the judiciary would be eroded if courts take hyper-technical view and dismisses petitions at the threshold.
"Experience has shown that the electoral process, despite several safeguards taken by the statutory authorities concerned, is often vitiated by the use of means, factors and considerations that are specifically forbidden by the statute.
"The electoral process is vulnerable to misuse, in several ways, in the process distorting the picture in which the obvious may be completely different from the real.
"Electoral reforms is, therefore, a crying need of our times but has remained a far cry. If the courts also adopt a technical approach towards the resolution of electoral disputes, the confidence of the people not only in the democratic process but in the efficacy of the judicial determination of electoral disputes will be seriously undermined," the bench said.