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Conviction on the same day will not render vote of the Legislative Assembly Member invalid : Supreme Court

A vote cast by a member of the Legislative Assembly will not be considered invalid, consequent upon his/her disqualification arising out of a conviction. The Supreme Court bench consisting of Hon’ble Chief Justice S A Bobde, J. A S Bopanna and J. V Ramasubramanian decided on the matter of Pradeep Kumar Sonthalia v. Dhiraj Prasad Sahu @ Dhiraj Sahu & Anr. [Civil Appeal No. 611 of 2020], which was an election petition questioning the validity of  a vote caste by a member who later faced conviction.

The biennial elections for 2 seats in the Council of States from the State of Jharkhand was conducted on 23.03.2018 wherein a total of 80 members of the Legislative Assembly cast their vote. One Shri Amit Kumar Rao cast his vote at 9.15 AM and was later convicted at 2.30 PM of various offences on the same day. The Election Petitioner was declared defeated with a total of 2599 value of votes whereas the candidates who were duly elected had secured 2601 and 2600 value of votes. Pradeep Kumar Sonthalia (petitioner) lodged an objection requesting the Returning Officer to declare Shri Amit Kumar Rao’s vote invalid on the basis of his conviction. An Election Petition was filed by the defeated candidate in the High Court who dismissed the same inspite of deciding majority of the issues in favour of the petitioner and refused to grant any relief to the election petitioner, primarily on the ground that “the election to the Council of States by a system of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote, is a highly complex, technical issue and that it is not possible for the Court to find out whether the election petitioner could have won the election, if that one vote had been rejected”.

Two main issues were framed by the SC – Whether the vote cast by Shri Amit Kumar Rao was to be treated invalid on account of the disqualification suffered by the voter under Article 191(1)(e) of the Constitution of India read with Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 by virtue of his conviction? Ans if yes, then whether the petitioner was entitled to be declared as duly elected automatically?

The SC pointed out the conditions for disqualification along with the period of disqualification of a vote by relying on the case of Saritha S. Nair v. Hibi Eden [SLP (C) No. 10678 of 2020]. The court found that the interpretation to be given to the expression “the date” in Section 8(3) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 would have bearing upon the interpretation to be given to the date of happening of any one of the events of disqualification. The court finally held that the vote caste by Shri Amit Kumar Rao was rightly treated as a valid vote and holding otherwise would “create endless confusion and needless chaos”.

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