The leaders should remember that though educational qualifications are not needed for contesting an election, they have a duty not to falsely claim the degrees. In so far as the election of a returned candidate has been materially affected by any corrupt practice committed in the interests of the returned candidate. the High Court shall declare the election of the returned candidate to be void
A division bench of Supreme Court rendered a landmark judgment in 2016, holding that legislators would lose their membership if their educational claims proved false. The leaders should remember that though educational qualifications were not needed for contesting an election, they have a duty not to falsely claim the degrees.
For Manipur Legislative Assembly in 2012, Meriambam Prithviraj, of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Pukhrem Sharatchandra Singh, sponsored by the Indian National Congress (INC), filed nominations from Moirang Constituency.
There was no other nomination filed. On objection filed by Sharatchandra saying a false declaration relating to educational qualification was made, the Returning Officer directed Prithviraj to submit proof of his educational qualification as declared in the affidavit filed under Form 26. The appellant failed, in spite of which the Returning Officer accepted his nomination. Prithviraj was elected with 14,521 votes while Sharatchandra got 13,363 votes.
Prithviraj’s election was challenged on the ground of false declaration about education, seeking prosecution under Sections 125-A, 127 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, while he denied the charge.
The Guwahati High Court considered issue of false affidavit in detail. There is no doubt that the appellant filed Form 26 in which he mentioned his educational qualification as MBA from Mysore University in 2004. After careful consideration of the material on record and various judgments cited by the parties, the High Court concluded that Prithviraj’s declaration about his educational qualification as MBA from Mysore University was false.
His plea that it was due to a clerical error and contention that providing wrong information about the educational qualification was not a defect of substantial character were rejected. The appellant contended that the respondent failed to plead and prove that the result was ‘materially affected’ as required under the Section 100 (1) (d) of the Act. The High Court did not accept the said contention on the ground that there were only two candidates in the fray in which case it was not necessary to prove that the result of election of the returned candidate was materially affected.
The High Court further held if it was found that the appellant’s nomination was improperly accepted, the result of his election stood automatically affected materially. The High Court on the basis of the above reasons declared the election of the appellant as void.
Prithviraj has filed an appeal before the Supreme Court. His counsel argued that the declaration pertaining to the educational qualification of Prithviraj was merely a clerical error and cannot be termed a false declaration. In any event, the declaration of educational qualification is not a defect of substantial nature warranting rejection of his nomination. His lawyer also submitted that the election petition was filed under Section 100 (1) (d) (i) and (iv) of the Act. Sharatchandra’s lawyer Meenakshi Arora contended that it was not a mistake as same declaration was made in 2008 election.
The law of elections
A proper nomination needs to be filed under Section 33 of the RP Act. The Section 33-A, which was inserted in 2002, mandates that a candidate should provide information about the criminal antecedents. As per Rule 4 (A) of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, inserted in 2002, a candidate has to file an affidavit with information about the educational qualification.
As per Section 100, the High Court could declare election to be void on the ground (a) that on the date of his election a returned candidate was not qualified, or was disqualified; or (b) that any corrupt practice has been committed by a returned candidate or his election agent or by any other person with the consent of a returned candidate or his election agent; or (c) that any nomination has been improperly rejected; or (d) that the result of the election, in so far as it concerns a returned candidate, has been materially affected—
(i) by the improper acceptance or any nomination or; (ii) by any corrupt practice committed in the interests of the returned candidate [by an agent other than his election agent], or (iii) by the improper reception, refusal or rejection of any vote or the reception of any vote which is void, or (iv) by any non—compliance with the provisions of the Constitution or of this Act or of any rules or orders made under this Act, [the High Court] shall declare the election of the returned candidate to be void.
According to 125A, a candidate who himself or through his proposer, with intent to be elected in an election fails to furnish information relating to sub-section (1) of Section 33A; or gives false information which he knows or has reason to believe to be false; or conceals any information, in his nomination paper delivered under sub-section (1) of section 33or in his affidavit which is required to be delivered under sub-section (2) of section 33A, as the case may be, shall, notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.
In Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, 2002 (5) SCC 294, the Supreme Court held that the voter has a fundamental right to information about the contesting candidates. The voter has the choice to decide whether he should cast a vote in favour of a person involved in a criminal case. He also has a right to decide whether holding of an educational qualification or holding of property is relevant for electing a person to be his representative.
In People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India, 2003 (4) SCC 399, the Supreme Court confirmed the fundamental right of voter to information about candidate, saying: “…However, voters' fundamental right to know the antecedents of a candidate is independent of statutory rights under the election law. A voter is first citizen of this country and apart from statutory rights, he is having fundamental rights conferred by the Constitution.
Members of a democratic society should be sufficiently informed so that they may cast their votes intelligently in favour of persons who are to govern them. Right to vote would be meaningless unless the citizens are well informed about the antecedents of a candidate. There can be little doubt that exposure to public gaze and scrutiny is one of the surest means to cleanse our democratic governing system and to have competent legislatures.”
In Resurgence India v. Election Commission of India and Anr. 2014 (14) SCC 189 Supreme Court held that filing of affidavit with blank particulars would render the affidavit as nugatory. It was reiterated in Kisan Shankar Kathore v. Arun Dattatray Sawant 2014 (14) SCC page 162 that non-furnishing of the required information would amount to suppression/non-disclosure.
The Supreme Court held, “It is clear from the law laid down by this Court as stated above that every voter has a fundamental right to know about the educational qualification of a candidate. It is also clear from the provisions of the Act, Rules and Form 26 that there is a duty cast on the candidates to give correct information about their educational qualifications. It is not in dispute that the appellant did not study MBA in the Mysore University. It is the case of the appellant that reference to MBA from Mysore University was a clerical error. It was contended by the appellant that he always thought of doing MBA by correspondence course from Mysore University. But, actually he did not do the course.”
The appellant further stated that he was working in Projeon, Infosys company and IBM till 2007 and because of his job many local friends and elders thought that he was an MBA degree-holder. His election agent also thought that he was holding an MBA degree due to which he instructed the advocate to claim as MBA degree-holder. In his cross-examination, he stated that he does not remember whether he had undergone MBA from Mysore University and he does not remember whether he possesses MBA degree.
After the results, Prithviraj resigned from NCP and joined Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The High Court held that having joined BJP, he was not entitled for a declaration as he contested the election in 2012 on behalf of NCP. The SC held that false claim to MBA was not an error and that it was declared in 2008 also and confirmed the judgment of Guwahati High Court declaring his election as void. (Based on the judgment of Supreme Court in Meriambam Prithviraj v Pukhrem Sharatchandra Singh by Justice Anil R Dave and Justice L Nageswar Rao on October 28, 2016)