NEW DELHI: Voters have a fundamental right to know the academic qualification of a candidate and any false declaration on this count can warrant rejection of nomination papers, the Supreme Court has held.
"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," a bench comprising Justices A R Dave and L Nageswara Rao said.
The apex court also ruled that if there are only two candidates in the fray and it is proved that the returned candidate's nomination papers have been "improperly accepted", then the one who lost the poll does not need to produce proof that the election has been materially affected.
The verdict came on two cross appeals filed by Mairembam Prithviraj alias Prithviraj Singh and Pukhrem Sharatchandra Singh against each other challenging the judgment of the High Court of Manipur.
The High Court had declared as "void" the election of Prithviraj, who had contested the 2012 polls on a Nationalist Congress Party ticket against Congress nominee Sharatchandra from Moirang Assembly seat in Manipur.
It was alleged that Prithviraj, in his nomination papers, had said he was an MBA, which was found to be incorrect.
Upholding the High Court verdict, Justice Rao, writing the verdict for the apex court bench, said it was not "in dispute that the Appellant did not study MBA in Mysore University" and the plea that it was a "clerical error" cannot be accepted.
"The contention of the Appellant that the declaration relating to his educational qualification in the affidavit is a clerical error cannot be accepted. It is not an error committed once. Since 2008, the
Appellant was making the statement that he has an MBA degree.
The information provided by him in the affidavit filed in Form 26 would amount to a false declaration. The said false declaration cannot be said to be a defect which is not substantial...," the bench said.
The bench also dealt in detail the legal question whether it was necessary to "plead and prove that the result was materially affected when the nomination of the returned candidate was found to have been improperly accepted, moreso, when there are only two candidates contesting the election."
"There is no dispute that an election cannot be set aside on the ground of improper acceptance of any nomination without a pleading and proof that the result of the returned candidate was materially affected.
"The point to be considered is whether the law as laid down by this Court relating to the pleading and proof of the fact of the result of the returned candidate being materially affected, applies to a case where the nomination of the returned candidate is declared to have been improperly accepted," it said.
The bench said there was a difference between improper acceptance of a nomination of a returned candidate and the improper acceptance of nomination of any other candidate.
There is also a difference between cases where there are only two candidates in the fray and a situation where there are more than two candidates contesting the election, it said.
"If the nomination of a candidate other than the returned candidate is found to have been improperly accepted, it is essential that the election Petitioner has to plead and prove that the votes polled in favour of such candidate would have been polled in his favour.
"On the other hand, if the improper acceptance of nomination is of the returned candidate, there is no necessity of proof that the election has been materially affected as the returned candidate would not have been able to contest the election if his nomination was not accepted.
"It is not necessary for the Respondent to prove that result of the election in so far as it concerns the returned candidate has been materially affected by the improper acceptance of his nomination as there were only two candidates contesting the election...," the bench held.
Though the mere finding that there has been improper acceptance of the nomination is not sufficient for declaration that the election is void under Section 100 (1) of the Representation of the People Act, "but, there would be no necessity of any proof in the event of the nomination of a returned candidate being declared as having been improperly accepted, especially in a case where there are only two candidates in the fray," the apex court bench said.
If the returned candidate's nomination is declared to have been improperly accepted, it would mean that he could not have contested the election and that the result of the election of the returned candidate was materially affected need not be proved any further, it said.
The bench also allowed the plea of the losing candidate that now he be declared winner as the election of the returned candidate has been declared void.
"We are in agreement with the High Court and we do not intend to interfere with the discretion exercised by the High Court," it said.