GHMC polls: Telangana HC agrees with BJP, only ballots with ‘swastika mark’ valid

The State Election Commission had in a circular on Thursday stated that ballots will be considered valid as long as the intention of the vote is clear.
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On a day when the counting of votes in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) Election was set to begin, the Telangana High Court on Friday came out with a crucial ruling. The High Court suspended the State Election Commission’s (SEC) order that was released on Thursday evening, stating that any ballot will be considered valid as long as ‘the intention of the vote is clear on marking to a particular candidate’.

The GHMC polls, that were held on December 1, saw the use of paper ballots instead of the Electronic Voter Machine (EVM), owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was brought to the notice of the SEC that during polling, some polling officers provided a ‘distinguish mark’ (Can be a pen, pencil or any other marking source) to voters to mark their vote. This instead of voters using the designated arrow cross mark (swastika) rubber stamp, which is to be provided by the polling agents. 

In view of the differences in the paper ballots, the SEC on Thursday issued a clarification stating that all ballots where the voter’s preference is clearly indicated will be treated as valid. “It is clarified that, if the intention of the voter is clear on marking to a particular candidate, that vote can be treated as valid vote to that candidate since it is the mistake of polling personnel under rule 51(h) of Conduct of Election Rules, 2005,” stated the SEC’s order.

This order was challenged by the BJP and the Telangana High Court on Friday morning suspended the State Election Commission’s order. The High Court allowed the SEC to go ahead with counting and to declare results in wards where the ‘distinguish mark’ ballots were less in results. It, however, barred the Election Commission from declaring results in wards where the above ballots are more in number, thereby impacting the final results.  The High Court has posted the matter for Monday.

Anthony Reddy, the advocate who filed the petition said, "The High Court suspended the SEC order because the SEC did not mention details about how many polling booths this discrepancy might have happened and in which polling station. The court also asked the SEC to hold the announcement of the result in wards where the discrepancies can impact the final results.”

Soon after the circular was released on Thursday, Telangana BJP president Bandi Sanjay Kumar addressed a press conference online, where he alleged that the circular was a sign that the State Election Commission was acting on the behest of the ruling TRS party to spin the results of the election in its favour. He also alleged that the TRS and AIMIM together had indulged in booth capturing, and stated that the BJP would take legal means to fight them, and take to the streets if necessary. 

Meanwhile, the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) Election Commission Coordination Committee’s Convenor G Niranjan demanded that the counting process be stopped immediately. A statement said, “In view of the High Court Orders, suspending the State Election Commission’s directions, the SEC should stop the counting process and conduct fresh elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation as the entire election process has been mishandled.”

Polling in 149 of the 150 wards under GHMC took place on Tuesday, while repolling was conducted in Old Malakpet division alone on Thursday due to discrepancies in party symbols on the ballot papers. 

READ: GHMC election results LIVE updates

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