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On Monday, when the matter was taken up for hearing, the Counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioner apprised the Bench comprising Justice K.M. Joseph and Justice B.V. Nagarathna that the petitioner has received the counter filed by the Election Commission of India on Saturday and in view of the same, he sought three (3) weeks’ time to file the rejoinder. Accordingly, the Bench dictated –

“Three weeks’ time granted for rejoinder. List immediately after 3 weeks.”

The petition had inter-alia prayed for directions that a single electoral roll be utilized for all levels of elections; declaration that Rule 18 of the Registrar of Electors Rules, 1960 is unconstitutional to the extent that it allows confirmation of objections without any inquiry; directions to the Election Commission to appoint senior civil servants from outside the State as special observers to oversee the electoral registration process; directions to delete the details of victims of COVID 19 pandemic who have died from electoral rolls; grant of compensation to citizens who are deprived of the right to vote due to data deletion.

On 21.11.2022, the Apex Court had issued notice in the matter limited to the prayer assailing constitutional validity of Rule 18 of the Registrar of Electors Rules, 1960. In its counter affidavit, the Election Commission submits that the petitioner’s plea that the impugned Rule gives widespread powers to the Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) by allowing them to delete a voter’s name from the roll without following process of natural justice is baseless. It was clarified that the provision empowers the EROs to accept a claim or objection without inquiry, but with a caveat that whenever a demand for inquiry is made in writing, the claim or objection shall not be allowed without inquiry. The counter affidavit has emphasised that this principle has been elucidated in Lakshi Charan Sen v. A.K.M. Hasaan Uzzaman.

The counter affidavit also argues that the name of a voter is not deleted from electoral rolls without prior intimation or notice to the EROs. Public notice is given of all claims and objections lodged with the ERO as per Rules 16. The notice is exhibited on the notice board of ERO’s office and is displayed on the website of the concerned Chief Electoral Officer. The notice contains all requisite information pertaining to the claimants, objectors and persons objected to, along with date and place where such claims and objections will be considered by the ERO. In all cases where the claim or objection has not been summarily rejected or accepted without enquiry, the ERO holds summary enquiry. Prior to this exercise, all interested parties are served notice as per Rule 19. The Election Commission of India categorically mentions in it counter affidavit that in most cases the EROs also get claims and objections verified by Booth Level Officers through on the spot local enquiry.

In cases of inclusion of names of ineligible persons by mistake, Rule 21 envisages the ERO to take remedial action to delete the names from the roll, if such error comes to notice before the final publication of the electoral roll. Section 22(c) of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 the its proviso permits the ERO to delete names from the roll on the ground of death or ceasing to be resident in the constituency. The ERO ought to give reasonable opportunity of being heard to such people whose name is sought to be deleted, after verification of facts.

Apart from the statutory safeguards, the counter affidavit submits that instructions are issued by the ECI from time to time in order to ensure names are not deleted wrongfully.

[Case Title: M.G. Devasahayam And Ors. v. UoI And Anr. WP(C) No. 1253 of 2021]


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