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Gratification Of Electors During Elections Demolishes Basic Structure Of Constitution And Democracy: Madras HC

While ruling on a very significant legal point pertaining to bribing of voters, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has in a most learned, laudable, landmark, logical and latest judgment titled Dhanalakshmi vs Sub Inspector of Police in Crl.OP(MD)Nos.3010, 3187 and 3216 of 2024 that was pronounced as recently as on April 16, 2024 has minced just no words to hold unequivocally that gratification to voters in the form of money, food, prizes, etc during elections would demolish the basic structure of the Constitution and democracy. It deserves mentioning that the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice B Pugalendhi of the Madurai Bench also lamented that the legislature has not treated such gratifications with gravity as the offence was punishable only with imprisonment to an extent of one year which definitely is quite less. It must be mentioned here that the Court was dealing with a plea where the petitioners were being charged and prosecuted under Section 171(E) of the IPC which provides punishment for bribery.

Plainly speaking, the Judge was at pains to point out that due to the lesser gravity of the offence, the practice of gratification has only increased with every election with around Rs 4,650 crores being seized in the current Parliament election so far. Why even in the revised penal laws we find no major change is definitely most baffling indeed? If Centre is really serious in combating corruption as it reiterates time and again so vociferously then it must definitely waste no time and address this most seriously on a war footing as has been  pointed out so very sagaciously by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court!

At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice B Pugalendhi of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “The petitioners, who are facing a charge under Section 171(E) IPC, have filed these petitions to quash the proceedings pending against them on the ground that the final reports are filed beyond the period of limitation.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 2 of this remarkable judgment that, “On the allegation that the petitioners had distributed money to the voters during the election conducted in the year 2011, the cases have been registered. After ten years, the final reports were filed and the concerned Judicial Magistrates have also taken cognizance of the same. Now, the petitioners have approached this Court that the final reports have been filed and cognizance have been taken beyond the period of limitation and therefore, they sought for quashing the proceedings under Section 468 Cr.P.C.”

As we see, the Bench then discloses in para 3 of this robust judgment that, “The petitioners have also raised a plea that for the offence under Sections 171(E) and 188 IPC, a private complaint has to be filed before the concerned Judicial Magistrate as per the provisions under Section 195(1A)(1) Cr.P.C, which is not done in the present cases and therefore, they sought for quashing the proceedings.”

Needless to say, the Bench then states in para 4 of this refreshing judgment that, “Heard the learned Counsel appearing for the respective parties.”

To be sure, the Bench then points out in para 5 of this most commendable judgment that, “The allegation against this petitioners is that they have bribed the voters during the election conducted in the year 2011. The cases were registered for the offence u/s.171(E) IPC.

Section 171(E) IPC is extracted as under:-

“171E. Punishment for bribery.—Whoever commits the offence of bribery shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both:

Provided that bribery by treating shall be punished with fine only.

Explanation.— “Treating” means that form of bribery where the gratification consists in food, drink, entertainment, or provision.””

Simply put, the Bench then hastens to add in para 6 of this noteworthy judgment that, “Democracy is the basic principle in our constitution. Our country is the largest democratic country in the world. The sculptural inscriptions would show that democracy prevailed in our country even during the ancient times.”

Most significantly and most worryingly, the Bench then propounds in para 7 of this rational judgment holding that, “However, of late, gratifications are being made to the electors in the form of money, food, prizes, etc. Such gratifications would demolish the very basic structure of the constitution and democracy. But, it appears that the legislature has not treated this offence proportionate to its gravity and has treated it as an offence punishable for an imprisonment to an extent of one year. Resultantly, the practice of distributing money/gift to the voters have not been reduced and the cases reported for distribution of money during elections are raising in every election.”

No less significant and no less worrying is that the Bench then further laments in para 8 of this cogent judgment that, “Even in today’s newspaper, it is reported that for the ensuing parliamentary elections, Rs.4,650/- Crore have been seized so far. Its hardly 15 days have passed and 65 more days is there for this election season. The amount so far recovered for this 15 days period is higher than the amount which have been recovered during the entire election conducted in the year 2019.”

Truly speaking, the Bench then very rightly points out in para 9 of this recent judgment that, “Squads are being constituted by the Election Commission for monitoring the movement of money. No doubt, cases are also being registered for bribery. However, it appears that since the penal actions contemplated for this offence is not effective, the cases are registered for some statistical purpose and the investigation agencies are not prosecuting the cases any further. The present cases on hand are a clear example. For the cases registered in the year 2011 for distribution of money, final reports are filed after ten years, enabling the parties to get the proceedings quashed on the grounds available under the Code.”

While striking the right chord and laying bare the ground reality, the Bench then expounds in para 10 of this relevant judgment that, “During the course of the hearing, Mr.R.Anand, a learned Advocate from the Bar, submitted that most of the FIRs registered for the offences under Sections 171(E) IPC are not at all reaching the Court and in very few selective cases alone, final reports have been filed. He further submitted that in none of the cases, nobody has been convicted so far, though, every year, cases are registered and the Election Commission is also giving press releases that several crore of rupees and prizes have been recovered, which were meant for distribution for voters.”

Most forthrightly, the Bench in the fitness of things very rightly directs in para 11 postulating that, “In order to ascertain the mechanism which is in vogue for effective prosecution of these cases, this Courts directs the learned Government Advocate (Crl.Side) to get instructions as to the

(i) number of cases registered in the previous Parliamentary Election, 2019 and State Assembly Election, 2021 for the distribution of money / bribery to the voters;

(ii) the stage of those cases; and

(iii) details of the cases, if any, ended in conviction.”

In addition, the Bench then further directs and propounds in para 12 of this brilliant judgment that, “This Court also requests the State Election Commission, Tamil Nadu, to explain as to how they are following up with the cases that are being registered for electoral offences. The Election Commission shall also offer its suggestions, if any, for effective prevention of gratification to the voters. Mr.Niranjan Rajagopalan, learned Counsel for the Tamil Nadu State Election Commission, is directed to get instructions in this regard.”

Finally, we see that the Bench then concludes by directing in para 13 of this sagacious judgment that, “Mr. R. Anand, learned Counsel, shall assist this Court in this matter as Amicus Curiae. Call on 17.04.2024.”

All said and done, there can be just no beating about the bush that what the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has pointed out so elegantly, eloquently and effectively in this notable judgment has to be taken most seriously to contain corrupt practices during elections in India as it denigrates the most impeccable image of our country as a robust and lively democratic nation which definitely cannot be allowed under any circumstances! There can be just no gainsaying that these political leaders certainly cannot be ever above our nation and they cannot be ever allowed to hold the entire nation to ransom by getting away most lightly and so also most easily even after indulging in most blatant corrupt practices during elections by bribing voters as pointed out so very deeply in this most courageous judgment which cannot be just glossed over as doing so would only sound the death knell of our democratic nation which cannot be allowed to happen just for the sake of appeasing corrupt politicians who have no moral fibre and who aim only to stick to power somehow or anyhow no matter what happens to our country and its image! Of course, the earlier this is realized and the earlier all corrupt practices during elections are most strictly punished, there can definitely be no hope ever of checking, combating and conquering the most corrupt practices that are so brazenly adopted by the political leaders of so many different parties just to gratify the electors for the sole purpose of only realizing their own vested political interests which definitely demolishes the very basic structure of the Constitution and democracy as has been pointed out also so very earnestly, elegantly, eloquently and effectively by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court in this leading judgment! No denying or disputing it!

Conclusion: The Madras High Court’s judgment serves as a wake-up call to the authorities and the public regarding the pervasive threat of electoral corruption. It highlights the imperative of safeguarding the integrity of democratic processes and upholding the rule of law. To preserve the sanctity of elections and protect democratic values, concerted efforts are needed to strengthen legal frameworks, enhance enforcement mechanisms, and promote transparency in electoral financing. Failure to address these challenges risks eroding public trust in democracy and undermining the foundation of the Indian Constitution. It is imperative for all stakeholders to heed the court’s warning and take decisive action to ensure free, fair, and transparent elections in India.

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