Baldev Singh Mann Vs.
Surjit Singh Dhiman  INSC 1994 (21 November 2008)
IN THE SUPREME COURT
OF INDIA CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION CIVIL APPEAL NO. 3700 OF 2007 Baldev
Singh Mann .. Appellant Versus Surjit Singh Dhiman ..
Dalveer Bhandari, J.
appeal has been preferred under section 116A of the Representation of the
People Act, 1951 (hereinafter referred to as the said Act) against the judgment
dated 8.12.2006 passed by the High Court of Punjab & Haryana at Chandigarh in
Election Petition No. 16 of 2002.
facts which are necessary to dispose of the appeal are recapitulated as under:
The Election Petition
No. 16 of 2002 was filed by the defeated candidate appellant Baldev Singh Mann
who lost the election from 87-Dirba (Punjab) Assembly Constituency which was
held on 13.2.2002.
3. The appellant
Baldev Singh Mann filed his nomination papers as a candidate of Shiromani Akali
Dal (B) (for short "SAD"), whereas respondent Surjit Singh Dhiman
filed his nomination papers as an independent candidate. In the election,
respondent Surjit Singh Dhiman got 35,099 votes and appellant Baldev Singh Mann
got 34,103 votes and consequently, the respondent was declared elected.
appellant filed this election petition under sections 80 and 81 read with
sections 98, 99 and 100 of the said Act before the Punjab & Haryana High
Court. By a comprehensive judgment, the election petition was dismissed.
Aggrieved by the said judgment, the appellant has preferred this appeal.
appellant pleaded that the respondent's election was liable to be declared void
as the respondent had committed corrupt practices by obtaining and procuring
assistance, for the furtherance of the prospects of his election, from
Gurbachan Singh Bachhi (hereinafter referred to as "Bachhi") and B.S.
Shergill (hereinafter referred to as "Shergill") who were in the
service of the government and were gazetted officers.
to the appellant, Bachhi was Administrative Member of the Punjab State
Electricity Board. He was appointed on 24.12.2001 and belonged to Bhattiwal
Khurd, a village falling in Dirba Constituency.
was posted as Deputy Director, Panchayats, Punjab and was a gazetted officer in
the service of the government. He had also remained as the Additional Deputy 4
Commissioner, Sangrur for four years and belonged to Rajpura, a village in
to the appellant, the role of Dhiman and Bachhi which amounted to corrupt
practices under section 123(7) of the said Act are as under:
(A) On 23.1.2002
respondent met Bachhi at the office of Executive Engineer, Punjab State
Electricity Board (P.S.E.B), Dirba at 7 p.m. in the presence of Kirpal Singh,
Sarpanch of Ladbanjara Kalan and Gurtej Singh, Sarpanch of Karyal and had asked
Bachhi to help him in the elections. After detailed deliberations Bachhi agreed
to help and support Dhiman. From 24.1.2002 to 26.1.2002, the respondent and
Bachhi were seen by Karnail Singh of Chatha Nanhera, Upender Singh Honey and
Teja Singh Tiwana of Chajjli, Kashmira Singh of Karyal and Darshan Singh, Nazam
Singh and Labh Singh of Dirba jointly contacting persons and asking them for
their support in the elections. They had also contacted Shamsher Singh of
Chatha Nanhera and Natha Singh and Harnek Singh of 5 Chajjli and sought their
support. The appellant had come to know about these facts on 27.1.2002 at 10
a.m. at Dirba from Karnail Singh, Shamsher Singh, Natha Singh, Harnek Singh,
Upender Singh, Teja Singh Tiwana, Kashmira Singh and others when Parkash Singh Badal,
President SAD, had come to Dirba on 27.1.2002 to address an election rally in
support of the appellant. The appellant and others complained to him about the
activities of Bachhi whereupon Bachhi was expelled from the primary membership
of SAD for anti-party activities.
(B) Bachhi alongwith
Dhiman visited Rajpura on 3.2.2002 at 11 a.m. and held a meeting at the house
of Jarnail Singh where Ram Karan, Sukhdev Singh and others had also assembled.
All these persons were voters of Dirba Constituency. Bachhi had taken N.S.
Bhullar, an Assistant Engineer (PSEB) with him. The said Bhullar was a relative
of Jarnail Singh. Bachhi threatended Jarnail Singh's relatives that in case
they did not vote and support the respondent he would create problems for their
On 4.2.2002, the appellant was informed by Naranjan Singh and Mehar Singh of
Kala Jhar that a day earlier at about 2 p.m. Bachhi along with the respondent
had met them and asked for support and vote. Later, the appellant was also
informed by Jasbir Singh, Dhanvir Singh and Gogi Singh that Bachhi had
contacted them in their village on 3.2.2002 at 3.30 p.m. and canvassed for
votes in favour of the respondent. The appellant in his complaint to the
Election Commission had also complained that Bachhi had been canvassing for
votes in favour of the respondent at Channo and Kala Jhar.
(D) On 5.2.2002, at 5
p.m. a meeting was convened at Chandani Tourist Complex in Nadampur of the
voters belonging to Nadampur, Balad Kalan, Phuymanali and Turi.
The respondent was
present at this meeting. Some officers of the PSEB were also present. Names of
some of the persons who were present there at that time were mentioned in the
petition and names of the PSEB employees were also mentioned. At this meeting,
Bachhi asked the persons present to vote and support the 7 respondent. The
respondent also thanked Bachhi and others for supporting him. The appellant
came to know about this meeting on 9.2.2002 from Gurmeet Singh and Hakam Singh
of Nadampur and Labh Singh of Phumanwali and he immediately sent a fax message
to the Chief Election Commissioner. At the said meeting, the respondent had
introduced some persons of Chatha Nanhera to Bachhi and asked him to help them
in getting out-of-turn power connection from the Board. The respondent told
Bachhi that if he is able to release the connection, that would advance his
prospects in the elections not only in his own village but also in the
surrounding villages. Bachhi asked Thilu Singh to meet him in the office of SDO
(Sub Urban) Suman on 6.2.2002 at 10 a.m.
(E) The above meeting
was held at the scheduled time and Bachhi directed the PSEB official to supply
material out of turn for giving connections to the villagers of Chatha Nanhera.
He also asked Thilu Singh and others of that village to vote and support the
respondent. In the evening at 5 p.m. Bachhi visited Dirba and in the presence
of 8 Karnail Singh, Ruldu Singh of Chatha Nanhera informed the respondent that
Thilu Singh's work had been done. The appellant came to know about this
information from Karnail Singh and Ruldu Singh on 8.2.2002 at 5 p.m. at an
election rally addressed by Sukhbir Singh Badal at Dirba.
appellant sent a complaint in this regard to the Chief Election Commissioner.
Shergill's role which attracted the provisions of the said Act is as under:
As regards Shergill,
the appellant pleaded that on 3.2.2002, the respondent and Bachhi had visited
Rajpura where they held a meeting in Jarnail Singh's house. They also went to
Shergill's house who at that time was posted as Deputy Director, Panchayats at
Chandigarh. They met Shergill at 12 noon in the presence of Joginder Singh,
Nachhattar Singh and Chand Singh of Rajpura. The respondent requested Shergill
to spare some time 9 for helping him in the election as he had sufficient
influence in the area. Initially Shergill showed reluctance to do so but the
respondent with the help of Bachhi succeeded in persuading Shergill to render
help in the elections. Thereafter, on 4.2.2002 at 9 a.m. both Shergill and
Bachhi went to Barroh and met Amarjeet Singh and asked him to collect prominent
persons of the village, whereupon several persons came there and Shergill
requested them to vote for the respondent. Shergill also reminded them of the
favours he had been doing for them when he was posted as ADC (Development) at
Sangrur. The appellant learnt about these details from Amarjeet Singh of Barroh
Similarly, Bachhi and
Shergill went to Noorpur on 4.2.2002 and at Mastaan Singh's house, a number of
persons of Noorpur arrived. Shergill impressed upon those persons to vote and
support for the respondent. The appellant learnt about this from Jagjit Singh
and Jasbir Singh when he went to 10 Noorpur on 6.2.2002 about 2 p.m. The
appellant immediately filed a complaint through fax before the Chief Election
appellant pleaded in the election petition that when Bachhi came to know about
the complaints lodged by the appellant, he destroyed the log book of his car to
conceal the fact that he was touring Dirba during the assembly elections to
canvass for votes for the respondent. After the result was declared, the respondent
toured the villages falling in Dirba Constituency to congratulate and thank his
voters and supporters. On 4.4.2002 and 5.4.2002, Bachhi also accompanied him
and visited about 33 villages in Bhawanigarh. While addressing meetings in
villages, the respondent specially thanked Bachhi for the sacrifice made by
him. Bachhi also thanked the people for voting and supporting the respondent.
There was a news item in this regard in the Punjabi Tribune dated 6.4.2002.
respondent's conduct established that he had obtained assistance from Bachhi
and Shergill, both gazetted officers in the service of the Government. These
acts constituted corrupt practices. According to the appellant, the respondent
had obtained assistance from Bachhi and Shergill in furtherance of the
prospects of his election. Hence, the election was liable to be declared void.
The respondent had committed corrupt practices as detailed under section 123(7)
of the said Act. According to the appellant, the respondent is clearly guilty
under section 123(7) of the said Act.
respondent filed written statement in which he had taken five preliminary
objections that :
(i) The election
petition was not maintainable as the affidavit attached to it was not an
affidavit in the eyes of law since it has not been properly verified;
(ii) The election
petition does not contain material facts on which the appellant relied upon;
(iii) The election
petition was not a complete petition as the alleged complaints and the news
items have not been attached therewith;
(iv) The appellant
has no cause of action because Bachhi, though a gazetted officer was not in the
service of the Government and Shergill though in the service of the Government
was not a gazetted officer;
(v) The petition
deserved to be dismissed because it did not disclose the date, time and place
when the appellant's statement was recorded by Avtar Singh and thus did not
disclose any cause of action.
the respondent submitted on merit that he was not aware of the details of
appointment of Bachhi as Administrative Member of the Punjab State Electricity
Board as copy of the gazette notification has not been placed on record.
However, Bachhi was not in the employment of the Punjab Government as Punjab
State Electricity Board was an autonomous body created under the Electricity
(Supply) Act, 13 1948 and its employees are not in the service of the Punjab
to the respondent, Shergill is not a gazetted officer as Deputy Director in any
of the departments of the Punjab Government.
respondent specifically pleaded that he had neither sought nor got any
assistance for any purpose, much less for the furtherance of the prospects of
his election either from Bachhi or Shergill.
the written statement, other allegations of taking assistance or help from
Bachhi or Shergill were specifically denied. The allegations regarding
destruction of car's log book have been made on the basis of the information
received from Varinder Singh, Assistant, Punjab State Electricity Board.
According to the
respondent, Varinder Singh was an ardent supporter of the appellant. The
allegations lacked material particulars as regards date, place and time of the
alleged 14 destruction of the log book. Allegations that Bachhi addressed
meetings after the election were also denied. It was submitted that these
activities cannot be taken into consideration. Under election law only
activities of the returned candidate from the date of filing of the nomination
since declaration of the results were not relevant. The High Court after
completion of the pleadings framed the following issues:- "1. Whether the
Election Petition and the affidavit in support of the election petition are not
properly verified, if so, its effect?
2. Whether the
Election Petition lacks in material facts, if so, its effect?
3. Whether the copy
of Election Petition supplied to the answering respondent is not a complete
copy of the election petition, if so, its effect?
4. Whether the
Election Petition does not disclose any cause of action as mentioned in
preliminary objections nos.4 and 5 of the written statement, if so, its effect?
5. Whether the
returned candidate obtained the assistance of Mr. Gurbachan Singh Bachhi
Administrative Member of P.S.E.B. for the furtherance of the 15 prospects of
his election in the way and manner alleged in paragraph 4 and paragraphs 6-A to
E and 7 of the election petition and thereby respondent committed corrupt
practice as defined under section 123(7) of Representation of People Act, 1951?
If so, its effect."
October 17, 2003, an additional issue was framed which reads as under:-
"Whether the returned candidates obtained assistance of Shri B.S.
Shergill, Deputy Director, Panchayats, Punjab for the furtherance of his
prospects of his election in the way and manner alleged in para nos.5 and 7 of
the election petition and thereby committed corrupt practice as defined under
section 123(7) of the Representation of People Act?"
1 to 4 were treated as preliminary issues.
January 13, 2004, issues 1 to 4 were decided against the respondent."
appellant in support of his case submitted a list of 54 witnesses, but examined
Mukherjee, Under Secretary to the Election Commission of India appeared as PW1
and testified in respect of the complaints received by the Chief Election
Commissioner of India from the appellant during the process of election to the
Dirba Assembly Constituency. The four complaints were dated February 4, 6 and
9, 2002 marked as PW1/A to PW1/D respectively. The said complaints were
inquired into by the Chief Electoral Officer, Punjab and the report of the
Chief Electoral Officer including reports of the Department of Rural
Development and Panchayats and Additional Secretary, Department of Power are
marked as PW1/E to PW1/G. The four complaints (Exhibits PW1/A to PW1/D) were in
respect of the incidents already referred to in the pleadings.
appellant appeared as PW2 and submitted his affidavit dated March 5, 2004
Exhibit PW2/1. The appellant produced 15 witnesses and the respondent produced
High Court after hearing learned counsel for the parties and examining the
relevant cases came to the conclusion that it is difficult to hold that Bachhi
was a gazetted officer though he was in the service of the Government. In this
view of the matter it is necessary to examine the specific allegations of
corrupt practice and after enumerating these incidents try and see if proof of
allegations either through direct, circumstantial or corroborative evidence was
forthcoming. There are allegations that on several occasions Bachhi had agreed
to support the respondent.
These are extracted
from the examination-in-chief of the appellant's sworn affidavit PW2/1.
"(i) January 23,
7 p.m. : On Dhiman's persuation Bachhi agreed to support him in the
constituency. This incident had taken place in the presence of Kirpal Singh
(PW- 3). Mann was informed about this at Dirba by Karnail Singh (PW-4) and
(ii) Between January
24-26 : Dhiman and Bachhi personally contacted prominent persons 18 of Dirba
constituency for soliciting support for Dhiman.
(iii) They joined
campaign for Dhiman. They were seen by Karnail Singh (PW4), Upinder Singh, Teja
Singh Tiwana, Kashmira Singh, Darshan Singh, Nazam Singh and Labh Singh.
(iv) Bachhi and
Dhiman contacted Shamsher Singh and Harnek Singh. These persons had told Mann
about this fact.
(v) January 27-12
noon Parkash Singh Badal, President (SAD) came to Dirba to address an election
rally in Man's support and Mann informed Badal about Bachhi's anti-party
activities. This led to Bachhi's expulsion from the party.
(vi) February 3 :
Bachhi and Dhiman visited Rajpura and met in Jarnail Singh's house in the
presence of Ram Karan (PW 5). Jarnail Singh was the brother- in-law of N.S.
Bhullar, AEE, P.S.E.B. Bhullar was also present there. Persons present in the
meeting were asked to vote for Dhiman. Bachhi even threatened Jarnail Singh
that in case his relatives did not vote and support Dhiman, then Bhullar could
be in trouble. Mann was informed about this on the following day by Ram Karan
(vii) February 4 at 2
p.m. : Bachhi and Dhiman met Niranjan Singh (PW 6) and Mehar Singh at their 19
houses at Kala Jhar and asked them to vote and support Dhiman.
(viii) February 3 at
3.30 p.m. : Bachhi had contacted Jasbir Singh (PW 7), Dhanvir Singh, Gogi Singh
in the house of Jasbir Singh and asked them to vote in favour of Dhiman. Mann
was informed about this by Jasbir Singh on the following day.
(ix) February 5 at 5
p.m. : Bachhi held a meeting of voters of various villagers falling in Dirba
constituency. The meeting was also attended by Dhiman. Many employees of the
Board were also present at that meeting. Bachhi with the consent of Dhiman had
requested the persons present in the meeting to vote for Dhiman. The meeting
was also addressed by Surjit Singh.
(x) February 6 at 10
a.m. : Bachhi asked PSEB employees to supply material out of turn for releasing
connection to the villagers of Chatha Nanhera and asked Thilu Singh to vote for
On February 6 itself
Bachhi visited Dirba and in the present of Karnail Singh and Ruldu informed
about the work done by him for Thilu and others.
Mann learnt about
this from Karnail Singh and Ruldu Singh at a rally addressed by Sukhbir Singh
Badal at Dirba."
main question before the High Court was whether the aforementioned instances
constituted corrupt practice as defined under section 123(7) of the said Act.
In the impugned 20 judgment the High Court came to the conclusion under sub-
section (7) of 123 of the said Act, it is obtaining or procuring of assistance
for the furtherance of the prospects of the candidate which constitutes main
ingredients of corrupt practice. The assistance has to be procured from a
person who is in the government service and who additionally is a gazetted
officer. In the impugned judgment the High Court had also discussed the legal
position in detail. The law is now well-settled that charge of a corrupt practice
in an election petition should be proved almost like the criminal charge. 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. 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.
three-Judge Bench of this court in Jeet Mohinder Singh v. Harminder Singh Jassi
(1999) 9 SCC 386 has held that the success of a candidate who has won at an
election 21 should not be lightly interfered with. Any petition seeking such
interference must strictly conform to the requirements of the law. Though the
purity of the election process has to be safeguarded and the court shall be
vigilant to see that people do not get elected by flagrant breaches of law or
by committing corrupt practices, the setting aside of an election involves
serious consequences not only for the returned candidate and the constituency,
but also for the public at large inasmuch as re-election involves an enormous
load on the public funds and administration. Similar opinion has been expressed
in Jagan Nath v. Jaswant Singh & Others 1954 SCR 892, Gajanan Krishnaji Bapat
& Another v. Dattaji Raghobaji Meghe & Others (1995) 5 SCC 347. The
will of the people who have exercised their franchise in an election in favour
of a returned candidate must be respected to protect the interest of the
court in a number of cases held that charge of corrupt practice is a
quasi-criminal in character and it has to be proved as a criminal charge and
proved in the court.
Jeet Mohinder Singh's case (supra), the court observed as under:- "Charge
of corrupt practice is quasi-criminal in character. If substantiated it leads
not only to the setting aside of the election of the successful candidate, but
also of his being disqualified to contest an election for a certain period. It
may entail extinction of a person's public life and political career. A trial
of an election petition though within the realm of civil law is akin to trial
on a criminal charge. Two consequences follow. Firstly, the allegations
relating to commission of a corrupt practice should be sufficiently clear and
stated precisely so as to afford the person charged a full opportunity of
meeting the same. Secondly, the charges when put to issue should be proved by
clear, cogent and credible evidence. To prove charge of corrupt practice a mere
preponderance of probabilities would not be enough. There would be a
presumption of innocence available to the person charged. The charge shall have
to be proved to the hilt, the standard of proof being the same as in a criminal
court has expressed similar opinion in the cases Quamarul Islam v. S.K. Kanta
& Others (1994) Supp (3) SCC 5 F.A. Sapa & Others v. Singora &
Others (1991) 3 SCC 375, Manohar Joshi v. Damodar Tatyaba & Others (1991) 2
SCC 342, Ram Singh & Ors. v. Col. Ram Singh 23 (1985) Supp SCC 611 and
Kripa Shankar Chatterjee v. Gurudas Chatterjee & Others (1995) 5 SCC 1.
Ram Phal Kundu v. Kamal Sharma (2004) 2 SCC 759, the court reiterated the
principle of election jurisprudence and observed that the election of the
returned candidate should not be lightly interfered with though at the same
time the purity of the election process has to be maintained.
the crucial question arises for consideration is whether the evidence of the
appellant on record is adequate to constitute corrupt practice within the
meaning of section 123 (7) of the said Act.
123 (7) of the Act reads as under:- "(7) The obtaining or procuring of
abetting or attempting to obtain or procure by a candidate or his agent or, by
any other person [with the consent of a candidate or his election agent], any
assistance (other than the giving of vote) for the furtherance of the prospects
of that candidate's election, from any person in the service of the Government
and belonging to any of the following classes, namely:- 24
judges and magistrates;
(c) members of the
armed forces of the Union;
(d) members of the
(e) excise officers;
(f) revenue officers
other than village revenue officers known as lambardars, malguzars, patels,
deshmukhs or by any other name, whose duty is to collect land revenue and who
are remunerated by a share of, or commission on, the amount of land revenue
collected by them but who do not discharge any police functions; and] (g) such
other class of persons in the service of the Government as may be prescribed:
[Provided that where
any person, in the service of the Government and belonging to any of the
classes aforesaid, in the discharge or purported discharge of his official
duty, makes any arrangements or provides any facilities or does any other act
or thing, for, to, or in relation to, any candidate or his agent or any other
person acting with the consent of the candidate or his election agent (whether
by reason of the office held by the candidate or for any other reason), such
arrangements, facilities or act or thing shall not be deemed to be assistance
for the furtherance of the prospects of that candidate's election]."
the instant case, the respondent won by less than 1000 votes out of nearly
70000 polled votes. In the impugned 25 judgment, it is aptly observed that 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. Allegations are that the
winner was moving from village to village asking for vote and in this process
he had often taken help of Bachhi and Shergill for canvassing for votes in his
the impugned judgment, it is aptly observed :
"Casting a vote
or asking for it does not amount to obtaining any assistance. When a candidate
meets a voter and ask him to vote, the voter may say "yes"
or "no" or
"may be". In any event such conversation between a candidate and the
voter would not amount to the voter giving assistance to the candidate. A
persistent candidate or his agent may request the voters for vote and the voter
may say "yes" simply to escape the candidate's persistence.
This would not amount
to corrupt practice at all.
There must be some
positive and explicit proof on the part of voters belonging to categories
mentioned in section 123(7)(a)(g) to constitute corrupt practice.
carefully examining the entire evidence on record, the High Court came to the
conclusion that the appellant failed to prove the ingredients of corrupt
practice contained in section 123(7) of the said Act. The High Court observed
that the evidence of corrupt practice was not strong enough to upset the
people's verdict in favour of the respondent. The High Court also observed that
the appellant has failed to prove issue 5 and the additional issue framed by
the High Court.
court in Gajanan Krishnaji Bapat (supra) observed that that the appellate court
attaches great value to the opinion formed by the Trial Judge more so when the
Trial Judge recording findings of fact is the same who had recorded the
evidence. The Appellate Court shall remember that the jurisdiction to try an
election petition has been vested in a Judge of the High Court. Secondly, the
trial judge had the benefit of watching the demeanour of witnesses and forming
first-hand opinion of them in the process of evaluation of evidence.
have carefully re-assessed and re-evaluated the entire evidence of record and
we concur with the view which has been taken by the High Court. In our opinion,
the appellant has failed to prove the basic ingredients of corrupt practices
under section 123(7) of the said Act. Consequently, the appeal being devoid of
any merit is accordingly dismissed.
parting with the case, we would like to reiterate that in a democratic country
the will of the people is paramount and the election of elected candidate
should not be lightly interfered with. At the same time, it is also the bounden
duty and obligation of the court to ensure that purity of election process is
fully safeguarded and maintained.
(Harjit Singh Bedi)
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