Non-disclosure of assets by candidates is corrupt practice, leads to election disqualification: Karnataka High Court

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The Karnataka High Court has ruled that failing to disclose assets or concealing assets of a candidate, their spouse, or dependents constitutes a corrupt practice. [Abida Begum v Mohd Ismail & Ors]
The Court observed that such actions could result in the disqualification of the candidate from participating in a panchayat election under the Karnataka Gram Swaraj and Panchayat Raj Act.

The Court added that such suppression by itself is enough to attract disqualification and that there is no requirement to prove that the suppression resulted in an adverse impact on the election prospects of another candidate.

“There is no particular requirement for the election petitioner to specifically aver or prove that the suppression has resulted in adverse impact favourable to the returned of 2022 candidate in the election. The mere suppression is sufficient to invoke the provisions of Section 19(1)(b) of the Panchayat Raj Act,” the Court explained.

A Bench of Justice Suraj Govindaraj made these observations while dealing with a challenge to an October 2022 trial court order, that had quashed the election of a candidate, Abida Begum, to a gram panchayat.

The said order was passed after one, Mohammed Ismail challenged Abida Begum’s election on the ground that she had failed to disclose her and her husband’s assets. The said suppression would amount to a corrupt practice by Abida Begum in terms of Section 19(1)(b) of the Panchayat Raj Act, Ismail had contended.

Abida Begum eventually challenged the trial court’s order in Ismail’s election petition before the High Court.

The Court relied on various Supreme Court judgments to observe that the purity of election at all levels, be it election to the Union Parliament or a State Legislature or a Municipal Corporation, or Panchayat is of national importance, in which area uniform policies are desirable in the interest of all the States.

Therefore, disclosure of assets has to be made by the candidate, spouse of the candidate and other dependent members, the Court said.

“It is not only suggestio falsi ie., suggesting of false information regarding the assets but also suppressio veri i.e., suppression of details relating to the assets which would be covered under Section 19 of the Panchayat Raj Act. That is to say suggestio falsi and suppressio veri of assets of the candidate, his or her spouse and dependent would come within the purview of Section 19 (1)(b) of the Panchayat Raj Act,” the Court further observed.

In this case, the Court held that it was the responsibility of the petitioner to reveal her assets, her husband’s assets, as well as those of other dependent members. Non-disclosure of the same would, therefore, amount to undue influence and a corrupt practice, the Court said.

All the same, the Court allowed Abida Begum’s writ petition on account of Ismail’s failure to make all the candidates who contested in the elections a party to the election case proceedings.

The High Court agreed with Begum’s contention that under Section 15(2)(a) of the Karnataka Gram Swaraj and Panchayat Raj Act, 1993, all the electoral contestants should have been made party to the election case if Ismail was seeking a declaration as the successful or returned candidate.

As such, the High Court opined that the trial court ought to have dismissed the election petition in limine, since all such contesting electoral candidates were not arraigned as parties to the case.

However, the Court also noted that such cases involve practical difficulties. Since there are multiple candidates contesting in elections, it would be very difficult, “if not impossible” to determine who can be declared the successful candidate in such cases.

“Even if there are three candidates, the matter could be difficult inasmuch as it cannot be ascertained as to in whose favour the votes polled by the returning candidate would have to be apportioned,” the judge pointed out.

Therefore, Justice Govindraj has asked the Law Commission of India to be sent a copy of his order so that this aspect may be examined.

Advocate VK Nayak represented Abida Begum. Advocates Shravan Kumar Math represented Mohd Ismail and High Court Government Pleader, Maya TR appeared for the concerned election authorities.

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