Source: 
Business Standard
https://www.business-standard.com/india-news/sc-s-order-on-disclosure-of-moveable-assets-upholds-voters-right-to-know-124041001018_1.html
Author: 
Raghav Aggarwal
Date: 
10.04.2024
City: 
New Delhi

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

The Supreme Court's order on the disclosure of movable assets owned by candidates upholds the voters' right to know, and there should be no concerns regarding transparency in the electoral process, experts suggest.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court stated that candidates contesting elections are not obliged to disclose every movable property owned by them in their affidavits unless the items are of substantial value or indicative of a luxurious lifestyle.

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

In the 2019 Tezu assembly elections, 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) received 1,088 votes.

Tayang later challenged Kri's election in the High Court of Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh, arguing Kri's failure to declare three vehicles owned by his dependents and not furnishing "no dues certificates" for a government-allotted MLA cottage in Itanagar.

The High Court declared Kri's election invalid for non-compliance with the Representation of the People Act. The case then proceeded to the Supreme Court.

In the Supreme Court, Kri substantiated that the vehicles in question were either sold or gifted before his nomination, and there were no outstanding dues against any government accommodation in his name.

The Supreme Court clarified that the Returning Officer (RO) is not obligated to reject a nomination unless a substantial defect is identified. The Court noted that failing to disclose every asset would not constitute a substantial defect.

"It is not necessary that a candidate declare every item of movable property unless the same is of such value as to constitute a sizeable asset or reflect upon his lifestyle," the court observed.

Mayank Grover, partner at Singhania & Partners LLP, remarked that the judgment balances transparency in electoral processes with the practicality of not needing to disclose every minor detail of a candidate's personal life.

Maj Gen Anil Verma (Retd), head of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), concurred with the Court's logic, affirming that voters' rights remain upheld.

"There should be no concerns about transparency in the electoral process, as the Court has astutely differentiated between substantial and minor issues," added Gauri Subramanium, an advocate in the Supreme Court.

Legal experts emphasized the importance of assessing cases inpidually. "The Supreme Court has called for contextual assessments, meaning its application will vary from case to case," said Abhinay Sharma, managing partner at ASL Partners.

Timeline:

1. In 2019, Karikho Kri won the Tezu assembly seat

2. Nunay Tayang, who was defeated, moved the High Court of Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, seeking Kri's election be declared as "void"

3. Tayang argued Kri had not declared some of his moveable assets and violated the Representation of the People Act, 1951

4. In 2023, the High Court declared the election of Kri void

5. Kri moved the Supreme Court (SC)

6. SC ruled that defects were "insubstantial" in character

7. SC said it was not necessary that a candidate declare every item of movable property unless it may impact the election result

8. Experts suggest the judgement upholds the voters' right to know

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