New Delhi : The Supreme Court has reiterated that a legislator cannot be unseated on charges of electoral malpractice and corruption unless charges are “proved to the hilt as in a criminal trial”.
A bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice Harjit Singh Bedi underlined this established legal position while dismissing a lawsuit challenging the election of an independent candidate from the Dirba constituency of the Punjab assembly in the February 2002 polls.
“The law is now well-settled that the charge of a corrupt practice in an election petition should be proved almost like the criminal charge. The allegations of corrupt practices should be clear and precise and the charge should be proved to the hilt as in a criminal trial by clear, cogent and credible evidence,” ruled the bench.
“The standard of proof is high and the burden of proof is on the election petitioner. Mere preponderance of probabilities are not enough, as may be the case in a civil dispute,” the bench said in the ruling, which was delivered Friday but released later.
The court gave the ruling on an election petition by Shiromani Akali Dal (B) candidate Baldev Singh Mann who lost to independent candidate Surjit Singh Dhiman.
Pointing out that Mann lost to Dhiman by less than 1,000 votes out of total 70,000 votes polled, the apex court agreed with the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which had said: “A candidate who loses by such a slight margin finds it hard to accept defeat.”
“Therefore, the candidate who has narrowly lost would ordinarily make all efforts and gather all kind of material against the elected candidate and level all kinds of allegations of corrupt practices whether substantiated or not. In the instant case, this is what seems to have happened,” the apex court bench said.
“We would like to reiterate that in a democratic country the will of the people is paramount and the election of an elected candidate should not be lightly interfered with,” it added, upholding the high court’s ruling which had dismissed Mann’s petition.
In his petition, Mann had alleged that Dhiman had indulged in corrupt electoral practices by goading two government servants to campaign for him.
Mann, however, had failed to substantiate his charges before the high court as well as the apex court.