Business Standard

SC order upholds voters’ right to know: Experts

The apex court held candidates didn't need to disclose every moveable property in polls

- RAGHAV AGGARWAL New Delhi, 10 April

The Supreme Court’s order on disclosure of moveable assets owned by candidates upholds the voters’ right to know and there should be no fears regarding the transparen­cy in the electoral process, experts said on Wednesday.

The apex court on Tuesday held it was not mandatory for candidates contesting elections to disclose each and every moveable property they owned in their affidavits unless they were of substantia­l value or reflected a luxurious lifestyle, asserting that the voter's right to know is not absolute.

A bench comprising justices Anirudhha Bose and Sanjay Kumar set aside the July 17, 2023 judgment of the Itanagar bench of the Gauhati High Court and upheld the 2019 election of Karikho Kri, an independen­t member of legislativ­e assembly (MLA) from Tezu assembly constituen­cy in Arunachal Pradesh.

In 2019, three candidates contested the Tezu assembly election. Independen­t candidate Karikho Kri won with 7,538 votes, while Mohesh Chai of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured 7,383 votes and Nuney Tayang of the Indian National Congress (INC) secured 1,088 votes. Tayang later filed a case against Kri. He claimed that Kri had not declared possession of three vehicles by his dependents: Kinetic Zing Scooty, Maruti Omni Van and TVS Star City Motorcycle.

“Such non-disclosure cannot, by any stretch of imaginatio­n, be treated as an attempt on his part to unduly influence the voters,” the apex court ruled.

According to Mayank Grover, partner at Partner, Singhania & Partners LLP, the judgement recognises the “importance of transparen­cy in electoral processes but acknowledg­es that not all aspects of a candidate’s personal life warrant disclosure, especially if they are of minimal significan­ce to the candidacy”.

Speaking to Business Standard, Maj Gen (Retd) Anil Verma, head of the Associatio­n for Democratic Reforms (ADR) said that he found logic to the arguments given by the apex court.

“The right of the voter is still being upheld,” he said.

“There should be no fears regarding transparen­cy in the electoral process since the court has cleverly caveated the judgment in this fashion,” said Gauri Subramaniu­m, an advocate in the Supreme Court. She added that it had “astutely” distinguis­hed between substantia­l and insubstant­ial issues.

Legal experts pointed out that the judgement also underscore­d the importance of evaluating each case individual­ly.

Subramaniu­m said the Supreme Court has called for a “contextual assessment of each situation”.

“As such, it will be difficult to apply this judgment as a straightja­cket formula and its applicatio­n would vary from matter to matter,” said Abhinay Sharma, managing partner at ASL Partners.

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