JAMMU, Nov 28: In a development of far-reaching consequences; Principal, District and Session Judge Jammu today issued notice to the Election Commission of India (ECI) in an election petition filed by a lawyer seeking cancellation of the recently held Municipal Elections.
The petitioner, Advocate Sanjeev Sareen, has alleged that antiquated EVMs were used during the Municipal Elections despite clear cut guidelines from the Supreme Court that only those EVMs should be used which have VVPAT in them.
Notices were also issued to Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Secretary Jammu and Kashmir and all corporators including Mayor and Deputy Mayor. The court issued the notices objections on the petition to be filed on the date of next hearing, 8th January.
Ms Purnima Shama, Advocate and Deputy Mayor of Jammu Municipal Corporation refused, in writing to accept the summons sent by the Honorable Court. In a jam-packed court room, counsels for the defendants were present.
Mr Vinod Chatterjee Koul, Principal, District and Session Judge gave a patient hearing to the election petition. The petition was filed on 13th of November and accepted today on the date of first hearing.
The petitioner demands the Municipal elections held in Jammu and Kashmir to be declared null and void because of the use of invalidated M1 EVMs. Although Election Commission of India has given instructions for the destruction of these M1 EVMs because they are not tamper-proof, these EVMs were used in the Municipal Elections of Jammu and Kashmir.
It needs to be mentioned here that elections to the Municipal bodies of Jammu and Kashmir were held in four phases from October 8, 2018 to 16th October 2018. The results for the same were declared on October 20th 2018.
Earlier, ballot boxes were used for holding Urban Local Body elections in J&K since the Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Corporation Act mandated the same. This Act was amended during the Governor’s rule. Vide SRO 336, Municipal Corporation Election Rules 2003 were amended and Rule 44-A was added.
According to this rule, the elections were now to be held with Voting Machines instead of Ballot boxes. Through another SRO 336, Rule 56-A to 56-X were added. These rules pertain to the design of EVMs to be used. According to these rules, it was obligatory for the Chief Electoral officer to use M3 EVMs or EVMs with paper trail in the elections.
However, the CEO J&K used M1 EVMs and breached the newly added rules of J&K Municipal Corporation Act. There were several other irregularities in the conduct of the elections, the petitioner has alleged.
The petitioner has said that he gave a representation to the Chief Electoral Officer J&K pleading that they should conduct the elections either through Ballot papers or M3 EVMs (valid EVMs). He even referred to the Supreme Court judgements about the use of EVMs.
The petitioner has said that he gave this representation to all the concerned quarters well before the ULB Elections began in Jammu and Kashmir on October 8th.
Sr. Advocate Ved Raj Wazir, Adv Amrit Sarin, Adv Abhishek Wazir besides a battery of lawyers represent the petitioner.
On being asked, Advocate Sanjeev Kumar Sareen said, “We live in a democratic country which is known all over the world for its robust electoral system. Why were discarded and disbanded EVMs used in Jammu and Kashmir at the first place? And if there was no issue with the EVMs, why the same are not being used for the Panchayat Elections. Why didn’t the Governor who amended the Municipal corporation act amend the Panchayat Act?”
He further said, “The argument that the EVMs which were used for ULB elections were tamper-proof falls flat when one is told that Panchayat Elections are being held with Ballot Boxes. My grievance is the manner in which elections were held. Apart from EVMs there were several other irregularities that I have mentioned in my petition. There was breach of Model code of conduct, non-videography during scrutiny which is mandatory and no training was provided to Returning Officer and Assistant Returning Officers either.”
“Results from these machines have shaken the confidence of a common man because these EVMs can be hacked. There is no democracy left in India if elections cannot be conducted in a free and fair manner. The only hope now is with the judiciary to give relief and with media to highlight this issue as one of utmost importance,” said Advocate Sanjeev Sareen, the petitioner.