Read Judgment: Lakshman Singh & Ors. vs. State of Bihar
New Delhi, July 24, 2021: While dismissing appeals filed by eight persons convicted for rioting as part of attempts to capture election booths during the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, the Supreme Court has emphasized that any attempt at booth capturing or bogus voting should be dealt with iron hands since it affects the rule of law and democracy.
The Division Bench of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice MR Shah observed that the essence of the electoral system should be to ensure the freedom of voters to exercise their free choice.
Citing observations made by the Top Court in the case of People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of India in which it was held that the freedom of voting is a part of the freedom of expression, the Bench postulated its agreement with the Jharkhand High Court’s final conclusion whereby the conviction of the appellants was upheld.
Going by the background of the case, a complaint was lodged way back in 1989 by a BJP worker, Rajeev Ranjan Tiwari, who alleged that the accused had come armed with weapons and asked him to stop issuing voter slips and to hand over the voters’ list he possessed. Upon complainant’s refusal to give the slips, the accused physically beat him up. After the villagers rushed to help, the accused fled from the scene and later, an FIR was lodged against 16 people, of whom 15 were charge-sheeted. The convicted accused were tried u/s 323 & 147 of IPC, which was confirmed by the High Court. This led to filing of present appeal before the Apex Court.
The Apex Court, however, observed that the election is a mechanism which ultimately represents the will of the people, and the essence of the electoral system should be to ensure freedom of voters to exercise their free choice.
Clearly stating that nobody can be permitted to dilute the right to free and fair election, the Top Court proceeded to highlight that “any attempt towards booth capturing and/or bogus voting should be dealt with iron hands because it ultimately affects the rule of law and democracy”.
The Apex Court further added that the secrecy of casting votes is necessary to strengthen democracy since it ensures that the voter casts his or her vote without fear of being victimized should the vote be disclosed.
Reiterating that democracy and elections are a part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution, the Bench noted that all eight accused appellants were members of an unlawful assembly with the common intention to snatch the voter’s slips and to cast bogus voting.
“We are of the firm view that the appellants are rightly convicted u/s 323 and 147 IPC and sentenced to undergo six months simple imprisonment only for the said offences. Since, the applications for exemption from surrendering of the accused appellants herein were allowed by this Court, they are directed to surrender forthwith to serve out their sentence,” observed the Bench.
Accordingly, the Top Court concluded that each member was guilty of rioting and hence directed them to serve the remainder of their jail sentence.