SUPREME COURT REITERATES THAT RIGHT TO SECRECY OF VOTING INCLUDES CHOICE OF DISCLOSURE

The Supreme Court has in a recent case of Laxmi Singh and others Vs Rekha Singh and others passed a Judgment dated 19-06-2020 and reiterated that a voter cannot be compelled to disclose information about whom he/she has voted in an election by way of secret ballot under the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (the Act). Furthermore, a voter cannot be prevented from voluntarily waiving such right to secrecy and choosing to reveal his/her ballot information to third parties.

In the present case, a no-confidence motion was passed against the Respondent-Panchayat Adhyaksha in the Zila Panchayat, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh by a majority vote. Aggrieved, the Respondent filed a case in the District Court on the ground that few Members had not followed the secret ballot procedure properly. But the District Court allowed the no-confidence motion. Thereafter, the Respondent filed an appeal before the High Court at Allahabad, which set aside the minutes of the Panchayat Meeting on the ground that few Panchayat Members had violated the rule of secrecy of ballot, as they had disclosed their ballot papers. Therefore, the Appellants had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the Allahabad High Court Order.

The Apex Court made the following observations in this case:

1- The Supreme Court noted that as per the Uttar Pradesh (Zila Panchayats) (Voting on Motions of Non-Confidence) Rules 1966, the panchayat members are required to put a specified mark on the ballot paper to express their choice without disclosing their names and details, and then, fold the said ballot paper, so that the secrecy of the ballot is not infringed. This was to ensure fair and free elections and to protect the interests of the voters.

2- Further, Section 94 of the Act provides that a voter cannot be compelled to disclose information about whom he/she has voted in a secret ballot. This concept of privilege of non-disclosure was formulated under the Act to ensure transparency and fairness in elections and to enable voters to cast their votes freely.

3- But the Apex Court held that the said concept of privilege inheres a right to waive it. Thus, the privilege of non-disclosure may end, if the voter decides to voluntarily reveal information about whom he/she had voted. In such case, the Supreme Court held that the waiver of secrecy by individual voters cannot be held to have contravened Section 94 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

But in this case, as both the Parties had agreed to conduct a fresh no-confidence motion against the Respondent by way of secret ballot, the Apex Court directed the Parties to conduct a fresh meeting, where the District Judge, Allahabad or Additional District Judge, Allahabad, would act as the Presiding Officer to ensure fair and free elections.

Harini Daliparthy

Senior Legal Associate

The Indian Lawyer

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