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Supreme Court Deliberates Over Unconditional Apology from Returning Officer Anil Masih in Chandigarh Mayoral Election Invalidation

New Delhi, 05-04-2024: The returning officer for the Chandigarh mayoral election, Anil Masih, whose actions led to the overturning of the election result by the Supreme Court in February, issued an unconditional apology to the apex court for his conduct. Masih, who faced criticism and ordered criminal prosecution by the Supreme Court, expressed remorse for his actions, including alleged misconduct during the vote-counting process.

In his apology, Masih acknowledged the impact of the leaked video recording of the election process, which subjected him and his family to immense mental trauma and stress due to criticism and name-calling by political parties and on social media. He cited the intrusion into his privacy and mental health caused by media coverage and public scrutiny leading up to his court appearance.

The Supreme Court had invalidated the election result, declaring AAP-Congress alliance candidate Kuldeep Kumar as the new mayor of the union territory. The court found Masih guilty of marking eight ballot papers to render them invalid, influencing the election outcome unlawfully. Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing Masih, presented the apology as completely unconditional and advised the withdrawal of Masih’s previous affidavit.

However, senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, representing Kumar, opposed the apology, leading the bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud to adjourn the matter until July 23 for further consideration. The court had earlier issued a notice to Masih under section 340 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for allegedly making false statements before the court.

Masih, a nominated BJP member of the civic body, faces criminal proceedings for providing false information regarding the validity of the ballots. The Supreme Court criticized Masih’s conduct as the presiding officer, emphasizing that his actions unlawfully altered the course of the mayoral election and that he provided false statements before the court, for which he must be held accountable.

Despite Masih’s apology, the court emphasized the seriousness of his actions and postponed further proceedings to evaluate the matter comprehensively. The case stemmed from a challenge by defeated AAP mayoral candidate Kuldeep Kumar against a Punjab and Haryana High Court order denying interim relief for a fresh poll.