Right to reject candidates: Apex court reserves verdict

January 29th, 2009 - 8:51 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) The Supreme Court Thursday reserved its verdict on a lawsuit that has sought a “negative voting” option to permit people reject all candidates in elections.A bench of Justice B.N. Agrawal and Justice G.S. Singhvi reserved its verdict after debating if voters have a “fundamental right” to vote, like the fundamental right to life, or if the right to vote is just a constitutional/statutory right.

The bench wondered if the right to vote is not a fundamental right, should the lawsuit be dismissed.

The petitioner, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), had filed the lawsuit demanding facility to cast negative vote under Article 32 of the constitution. It cited violation of fundamental rights as the ground for moving the apex court on the issue.

But the court cannot be approached directly unless there is a violation of fundamental rights.

The bench reserved its verdict after hearing arguments from Election Commission counsel Meenakshi Arora and PUCL counsel retired Justice Rajinder Sachar.

Conceding that right to vote was not a fundamental right but just a constitutional right, Arora, however, argued that “the right to vote was fundamental to the democracy of the country, which is the basic structure of the constitution”. Accordingly, it has been placed on a footing equivalent to fundamental right, she stressed.

In support of her contentions, Arora quoted from a 2002 ruling of the apex court, which granted Indian voters the right to know the credentials of the candidates in fray, including their possible criminal antecedents and educational qualifications besides their financial assets and liabilities.

Arora argued that the apex court’s 2002 ruling held that the act of voting is akin to voters’ expression to choose a candidate and forms part of the fundamental right of the freedom of speech and expression.

Justice Sachar too echoed Arora’s argument. “Voting is a form of expression of will or opinion of the person voting in the election.”

But the bench appeared only partly convinced, despite sounding sympathetic to the voters’ cause to have the right to reject all candidates in the fray.

Bound by other rulings of the apex court’s larger benches, which tentatively viewed the right to vote as merely a statutory right, the bench wondered if it should proceed and decide on the demand in the lawsuit or refer the matter to a larger bench.

It, eventually, reserved its ruling on the issue, asking various counsel, including Additional Solicitor General Amrendra Saran, to submit their additional written arguments to the court by Monday.

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