calcutta high court

Calcutta High Court: In a case challenging the vote recounting process in West Bengal Panchayat General Elections, 2023 after declaration of result, a single-judge bench comprising of Amrita Sinha,* J., held that the recounting did not comply with the prescribed law and that it was conducted in an unfair and biased manner. The Court further held that the result of the initial counting should be treated as the final declaration of the result.

Factual Matrix

In the instant matter, the petitioner contested the Panchayat General Elections in 2023 for a Panchayat Samity seat. After the initial counting on 11-07-2023, the petitioner was declared the winner with a margin of six votes. The petitioner was informed that the winning certificate would be issued shortly.

On the morning of 12-07-2023, the petitioner learned that the votes were recounted, and he was declared the loser. The recounting was initiated by the Block Development Officer (BDO) in the absence of the counting officer, who had left after the initial result declaration.

The petitioner alleged that the recounting was done in the interest of the candidate supported by the ruling dispensation, and it involved manipulation. The petitioner filed a complaint, and the respondent authorities did not address his grievance, leading him to file the present writ petition before this Court.

The petitioner prays for an inquiry into the malpractice at the hands of the respondent authorities and seeks an order not to give any effect to the result declared in respect of the disputed seat in the Panchayat Samity.

Moot Point

  1. Whether the recounting of votes in the Panchayat Samity election conducted in accordance with the relevant laws and guidelines?

  2. Whether the recounting affected the election result and, if so, whether it should be upheld?

  3. Whether the petitioner’s allegations of manipulation and unfair conduct on the part of the Block Development Officer are substantiated?

Rule of Law

  • West Bengal Panchayat Elections Rules, 2006.

  • Counting guidelines and procedures established by the State Election Commission.

  • Judicial review of decisions of statutory bodies based on mala fide, arbitrary exercise of power, or breach of the law.

  • The requirement for non-compliance with statutory provisions to materially affect the election result.

Court’s Assessment

The Court observed that the election in question was a three-tier election, and the counting sequence prescribed in the guidelines required counting to be taken up tier-wise. Counting of one tier had to be completed before counting of the next tier was initiated.

The Court further observed that the prayer for recounting was made after the counting for the next tier (Zilla Parishad) had started, indicating that the counting process for the Panchayat Samity had concluded. The Court found that the prayer for recounting was not made at the proper time, during the prescribed “pause” before the result declaration, as required by the rules.

The Court expressed concern about the manner in which the recounting was conducted. The Court opined that the significant shift in the number of rejected votes during recounting raised questions about the fairness of the initial counting. The Court accepted the petitioner’s contention that the BDO’s role in initiating recounting was biased.

The Court expressed concerns about the integrity of the election process and the need for transparency and fairness. It emphasised that the result of an election should be final, and that recounting should not be used to perpetuate injustice.

“The very concept of democracy in electing a candidate through a free and fair election process appears to have been blown to the wind. If the same is allowed to continue then democracy will be at stake. The faith of the electors on the system will start weaning giving rise to corruption and breakdown of the democratic process. There can be no alternative to a free, fair and transparent election process, starting from the first to the last step.”

While citing Election Commission of India v. Ashok Kumar, (2000) 8 SCC 216, the Court stated that the result of the election should only be set aside if there is a material impact on the outcome and if there is a breach of the law and in the present case, the recounting did not meet these criteria.

The Court held that the recounting of votes in the Panchayat Samity election was not conducted in accordance with the relevant laws and guidelines. Moreover, the recounting was done in the absence of the winning candidate, which violated principles of natural justice.

The Court held that the recounting should not be treated as valid, and the result of the initial counting should be upheld. The Court directed the State Election Commission to issue the election certificate to the petitioner, treating him as the returned candidate.

Court’s Decision

The writ petition was disposed of with the direction to treat the result of the initial counting as valid and to immediately issue the election certificate in favor of the petitioner, considering him the returned candidate.

[Tijendranath Mahato v. W.B. State Election Commn., 2023 SCC OnLine Cal 3569, order dated 11-10-2023]

*Judgment by Justice Amrita Sinha

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Koustav Bagchi, Mr. Debayan Ghosh, Ms. Priti Kar, Counsel for the Petitioner

Ms. Sonal Sinha, Mr. Tarun Kumar Chatterjee, Mr. Sujit Gupta, Mr. Sayan Datta, Mr. Soumen Chatterjee, Counsel for the State Election Commission

Mr. Amal Kumar Sen, Ld. AGP. Ms. Sohina Sumi, Counsel for the Respondent 4

Mr. Kishore Dutta, Sr. Adv. Mr. Suman Sengupta, Counsel for the Respondent 6

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