New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved its verdict on the issue of empowering the returning officer to reject the nomination paper of a candidate who provides incomplete information by leaving some columns blank in the document.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam concluded the hearing during which the Election Commission also supported the plea of an NGO that no column should be allowed to be left blank which tantamount to concealing information and not filing the complete affidavit.
However, senior advocate A Mariarputham, appearing for the Centre, said the right to contest election is a statutory one and there is a judgement of the three-judge bench of the apex court that even for concealing the information, the nomination paper cannot be rejected.
He said eligibility and rejection of the nomination of candidates have to be decided in terms of section 36 and other relevant provisions of the Representation of Peoples` Act.
The Election Commission has also taken a stand that the returning officer should be empowered to reject the nomination paper of a candidate who provides incomplete information by leaving some columns blank in the affidavit.
The EC said providing no information and keeping the column blank stands on a different footing by writing either `nil` or `not applicable` in nomination papers.
"If a candidate leaves the column blank, the returning officer should be allowed to reject the nomination paper," advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing for the EC, submitted before the bench, also comprising justices Ranjana Prakash Desai and Ranjan Gogoi.
The court was hearing a PIL filed in 2008 by Resurgence India, a civil rights group, which detected a trend among candidates of leaving blank the columns demanding critical information about them.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, said leaving any column blank would mean non-compliance of an apex court judgement.
He said writing `nil` in the format is permissible though it may be a false declaration which could lead to prosecution.
"So leaving blank a column will not invite prosecution as you are not declaring anything," Bhushan said and cited an example of a nomination paper filed by a candidate in the 2007 Punjab Assembly election in which he left everything blank and deleted the paragraph which required to mention about his criminal liability.
The Election Commission said leaving blank any column amounts to wilful avoidance in providing information.
The poll panel had earlier said it had issued directions to all returning officers that it should be ensured that none of the columns is left vacant.
To a specific query by the bench, it said till date the nomination paper of no candidate has been rejected for leaving the column blank.
The court had during the earlier hearing wanted to know about the consequences arising from filing incomplete nomination papers by candidates in elections.
"If you don`t fill the forms completely, it would mean that you are not filing a declaration," the court had said while wanting to know whether it would amount to rejecting the nomination papers of a candidate.
The bench was told that while filing nomination papers, candidates are supposed to furnish affidavits in which there are columns in which they give their educational qualifications, financial assets and liabilities and possible criminal antecedents.
However, instances are there when candidates prefer to leave the column vacant, the NGO said.
Bhushan had told the bench that the PIL was filed after scrutinising over 7,000 affidavits filed by candidates along with their nomination papers during Punjab assembly elections in 2007.
The NGO has submitted that candidates, out of fear of attracting charges of perjury for giving false information under oath in the affidavit, would rather leave the column blank.
It had said this would leave the poll panel incapable of either rejecting the nomination or taking any action.
The EC, in its reply, had said that by resorting to this mechanism candidates have been able to frustrate voters` right to critical information about themselves.