Thursday, January 3, 2019

SC okays trial on petition challenging Ahmed’s RS election

Refuses To Restrain HC From Passing Final Order

In a setback to Congress leader Ahmed Patel, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Gujarat High Court to proceed with the trial of an election petition that had challenged his election to Rajya Sabha by a nail-biting margin in August, 2017.
When Patel’s plea challenging the HC’s decision to entertain the election petition was taken up for hearing, and even before his counsel Kapil Sibal could open arguments, a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul observed: “Go and face trial.” But when the pages of the petition Sibal was citing did not match with the pages before the bench, the CJI kept the matter for hearing an hour later.
When the arguments began, Sibal was joined by senior advocate A M Singhvi while Patel’s opponent Balwantsinh Rajput was represented by senior advocates Maninder Singh and C A Sundaram. Both Sibal and Singhvi attempted to point out the flaws in Rajput’s election petition. After hearing both, the CJI-led bench said it would hear arguments in detail in February. However, as an interim measure it said: “In the meantime, the high court shall proceed with the trial of the election petition.”
Sibal pointed out that during an earlier round of litigation by Patel, the SC had allowed the HC to proceed with the trial but had restrained it from passing final orders. He requested the bench that the same interim order should be passed now by the SC. Maninder Singh opposed the plea and said since the SC had disposed of Patel’s earlier SLP, the earlier interim order had come to an end.
Not keen to get into any controversy over the interim order, the bench of Justices Gogoi and Kaul said: “This (today’s order) will be in supersession of all such interim orders that may have been passed earlier.” This could possibly mean the possibility of the HC completing trial and passing final order on election petition. But, the CJI allayed the fears by observing “we know how fast such trials move. In any case, we will hear the case in detail in February”.
Patel had won the RS elections from Gujarat, along with BJP's Amit Shah and Smriti Irani, on August 8, 2017 amidst high drama. Prior to polls, Congress chief whip Balwantsinh Rajput had resigned from his party, joined BJP and filed nomination for RS. This was followed by resignation of five Congress MLAs, and eight more openly rebelling. Congress had cried foul about use of money power and transported 44 MLAs to Bengaluru. With cross rampant cross voting, it was an anxious 24 hours before Patel scraped through to RS for the fifth time.
Rajput filed a petition in the HC challenging the Election Commission's decision to invalidate votes of two rebel Congress MLAs, claiming that if they had been counted, he would have won. He had accused Patel of exercising undue influence over Congress MLAs and denying them the opportunity to vote as per their conscience by confining them to a Bengaluru resort ahead of elections.
Patel had moved the HC with three applications challenging the maintainability of Rajput's petition. He had claimed that Rajput had failed to comply with important technical requirements under Section 80 of the Representation of People Act. Patel's grievances against the election petition was that the copy of the petition filed in the HC and the one supplied to him by Rajput had as many as 20 differences, which according to the Congress leader was fatal to an election petition. The HC had rejected his plea and ordered Rajput's election petition be taken up for trial.

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