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Kondaveti Gurunath Reddy Vs. V. Seshaiah and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectElection
CourtAndhra Pradesh High Court
Decided On
Case NumberSpl. Appeal No. 2 of 1964
Judge
Reported inAIR1966AP331
ActsRepresentation of the People Act, 1951- Sections 90, 90(2) and 123; Evidence Act
AppellantKondaveti Gurunath Reddy
RespondentV. Seshaiah and ors.
Appellant AdvocateA. Raghuvir and ;A. Anantha Reddy, Advs.
Respondent AdvocateB. Sreeramulu and ;D.M. Deshmukh, Advs.
DispositionAppeal dismissed
Excerpt:
.....lakshminarayana and his associates to the houses of avowed congress workers, is far-fetched and incredible. on the whole we are of opinion that the petitioners have failed to establish the corrupt practice of undue influence, 49. there remains the corrupt practice of caste appeal......the election of respondent-1 on the main ground that he and his agents had resorted to various corrupt practices during the election. the principal corrupt practices alleged were bribery, undue influence and appeal to voters on the basis of caste and community, falling within the mischief of subsections 1, 2 and 3 of section 123 of the act. as many as 22 instances of bribery, 16 instances of undue influence and 35 instances of caste appeal were alleged in the election petition. respondent-1 in his turn filed a recrimination petition against respondent-2 alleging various corrupt practices by the latter and his agents.2. after a protracted trial, in which a mass of oral and documentary evidence was let in by the parties, the tribunal, after carefully sifting and weighing the evidence,.....
Judgment:

Basi Reddy, J.

1. This is an appeal under section 116A of the Representation or the People Act, 1951 (hereinafter referred to as 'the Act') from the order of the Election Tribunal of Andhra Pradesh dated January 10, 1964, in Election petition No. 81 of 1962, whereby the election of the Communist candidate, Kondaveti Gurunath Reddy, to the Legislative Assembly of Andhra Pradesh from Chinnakondur constituency of Nalgonda District at the General Election held in February 1962, was set aside. A further prayer in the Election petition that the Congress candidate, Konda Lakshman Bapuji should be declared to have been duly elected, was however rejected. The Election Petition was filed by two voters of the constituency by names, V. Sesbaiah and G. Anantha Reddy, and to the Election Petition the three candidates who had contested the election, namely, Kondaveti Gurunath Reddy, Konda Lakshman Bapuji, and Gummakala Narayan Reddy who stood on the Congress, Communisl and Swatantra tickefs, were impleaded as Respondents 1, 2 and 3 respectively. In this appeal we shall, for the sake of convenience refer to the parties as they were arrayed before the Election Tribunal. Polling took place on February 19, 1962 and the result of the poll was announced on February 26. Respondent-1 secured 20,967 votes, Respondent-2, 20,411 votes; Respondent-3, 1,454 votes and there were 2,087 invalid votes. Respondent-1 was, therefore, declared as duly elected. Subsequently the petitioners filed the present Election Petition questioning the election of Respondent-1 on the main ground that he and his agents had resorted to various corrupt practices during the election. The principal corrupt practices alleged were bribery, undue influence and appeal to voters on the basis of caste and community, falling within the mischief of Subsections 1, 2 and 3 of Section 123 of the Act. As many as 22 instances of bribery, 16 instances of undue influence and 35 instances of caste appeal were alleged in the Election Petition. Respondent-1 in his turn filed a Recrimination Petition against Respondent-2 alleging various corrupt practices by the latter and his agents.

2. After a protracted trial, in which a mass of oral and documentary evidence was let in by the parties, the Tribunal, after carefully sifting and weighing the evidence, held as proved beyond reasonable doubt four instances or bribery by treating the electors to sendhi or toddy two instances of undue influence by intimidating the voters and two instances of caste appeal to wean away the voters, while holding that the other allegations in the Election Petition and the allegations in the Recrimination Petition had not been substantiated. In the result, the Tribunal declared the election of Respondent-1 to be void but declined to declare Respondent-2 as having been duly elected.

3. In this appeal, Mr. Raghuvir, the learned Advocate for the appellant-Respondent-1, took us through the material portions of the record and contended that the findings of the Tribunal are vitiated by an incorrect appreciation of the relevant evidence.

4. Before examining the evidence in the light of the comments made upon it, it is necessary to have a clear and precise idea as to the standard of proof required in an election petition where corrupt practices are alleged. Should the standard of proof be as high as in a criminal case or is it enough if the standard is as in a civil case? In other words, is a charge of corrupt practice to be proved beyond reasonable doubt or by a mere balance of probability? The use of a convenient catch-word like 'quasi-criminal' with respect to charges of corrupt practice, is of little practical assistance in evaluating evidence in an election case. The application of a yardstick which is half criminal and half civil, however attractive in theory, would involve in actual practice a very difficult mental feat on the part of a judge of fact. The truth of the matter is that there is no half-way house; it has to be the one or the other. Whatever may be the position in England and America, fortunately so far as our country is concerned, all these legal niceties are rendered academic by a recent pronouncement of the Supreme Court, laying down in clear and emphatic terms that the measure and standard of proof in an election case are the same as in a criminal case. In Jagdev Singh v. Pratap Singh, : [1964]6SCR750 188 this is what their Lordships said:

'It may be remembered that in the trial of an election petition, the burden of proving that the election of a successful candidate is liable to be set aside on the plea that he was responsible directly or through his agents for corrupt practices at the election, lies heavily upon the applicant to establish his case, and unless it is established in both its branches i.e., the commission of acts which the law regards as corrupt, and the responsibility of the successful candidate directly or through his agents or with his consent for its practice not by mere preponderance of probability, but by cogent and reliable evidence beyond any reasonable doubt, the petition must fail. The evidence may be examined bearing this approach to the evidence in mind.'

5. The next question is whether in the trial of an election petition, it is permissible to act on the testimony of an accomplice uncorroborated in material particulars by independent evidence of a direct or circumstantial nature. In our opinion, once the standard of proof in an election petition is assimilated to that in a criminal case, and inasmuch as by Section 90(2) of the Act, the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act are made applicable in all respects to the trial of an election petition, it would follow as a necessary corollary that as a salutary rule of practice, though not as a rigid rule of law, a finding of guilty on a charge of corrupt practice, should not normally be based on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice, be he a direct participant in the corrupt practice or one who had aided or abetted the commission of that corrupt practice; and further, that corroboration must come from an independent source, that is to say, the evidence of one accomplice would not be sufficient, as a rule, to corroborate the evidence of another.

6. While it is true that the purity of the election process must be safeguarded, yet if an impression gains ground that the election of a successful candidate is liable to be set aside on the tainted evidence of persons who are in the position of accomplices, it may encourage the subornation of witnesses, and the remedy may prove to be worse than the disease. In this context, an observation of Lord Atkin in W. C. Macdonald v. Fred Latimer, AIR 1929 PC 15 at 18 in a civil action founded upon fraud, is apposite:

''By every code of evidence the testimony of a professed accomplice requires to be carefully scrutinized with anxious search for possible corroboration.'

7. We must say that in the present case the Tribunal has appreciated the evidence as in a criminal case by insisting on proof of a corrupt practice beyond reasonable doubt; but in a few instances, the Tribunal appears to have ignored the rule of prudence governing accomplice evidence.

8. We shall now deal with the charges of corrupt practice which have been held by the Tribunal to have been established beyond reasonable doubt.

9. The charges may be divided into three broad heads:

(1) Bribery (2) Undue influence (3) Caste appeal.

10. Under the head of bribery, the Tribunal has found Respondent-1 guilty of four instances of bribery in four different polling centres in the constituency.

11-45. (After discussing the evidence on the charge of bribery, his Lordship continued).

46. We, therefore, agree with the conclusion of the Tribunal, though by a slightly different process of reasoning, that the four instances of bribery alleged against Respondent-1, have been proved beyond reasonable doubt by acceptable evidence.

47. The second head of charge is one of undue influence. The allegations were firstly, that on February 15, 1962 the Communist Sarpanch of Puttapaka village along with a batch Of Communist workers, not only interfered with the procession led by the Congress workers of Puttapaka village but also beat up the Congress workers and sympathizers; and secondly, that thereafter the Communist workers continued to threaten the electors of Puttapaka with dire consequences if they did not vote for the Communist candidate, and particularly, during the night previous to and on the early morning of the polling day, one Pusali Lakshminarayana, a Polling Agent of Respondent-1, went from door-to-door intimidating the voters, with the result that the free exercise of their franchise was interfered with. A number of witnesses, the more important of whom were P.Ws. 27, 42, 79, 80 97 and 103, were examined in support of these allegations. The Tribunal held as proved the allegations referred to above, which in its view, constituted the corrupt practice of undue influence, within the meaning of Sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the Act.

48. We have gone through the depositions of the above witnesses but we find ourselves unable to agree with the Tribunal on its evaluation of the evidence. It seems to us that the witnesses have made a mountain of a mole-hill and what in all probability was a minor clash on the 15th of February at Puttapaka between two sets of processionists in the heat of an election campaign, has been magnified into a deliberate and determined attack of the Congress workers by the Communist workers in the village, followed by acts calculated to intimidate the electors and get them to vote for the Communist candidate. In our opinion, there is a good deal of exaggeration in the evidence, and the story of a door-to-door nocturnal visit of Pusali Lakshminarayana and his associates to the houses of avowed Congress workers, is far-fetched and incredible. On the whole we are of opinion that the petitioners have failed to establish the corrupt practice of undue influence,

49. There remains the corrupt practice of caste appeal. Although a number of instances were alleged in the Election Petition, the Tribunal has, on an appraisal of the evidence, ultimately found that only two instances of Respondent-1 or his agents appealing to voters to vote for Respondent-1 on the basis of caste, have been made out. One of those instances was at Chinnakondur. The witnesses who spoke about it were P.W. 6 (Sappidi Malla Reddy); P.W. 7 (Bommireddy Sathi Reddy); P. W. 44 (Bansireddy Laxma Reddy) and P.W. 60 (Danda Ram Reddy). The Tribunal has accepted the evidence of P.Ws. 6 and 60 and held that Respondent 1 had appealed to P.Ws. 6 and 60, who are Reddies, to work for him because he is a Reddy and they in their turn, had appealed to the Reddy voters in Chinnakondur and the neighbouring villages to vote for the Reddy Communist candidate. By doing such propaganda, a number of votes were secured for Respondent 1. P.W. 6 was a Polling Agent of Respondent 1, while P.W. 60 had at first worked for the Swatantra party candidate but had switched over to the side of Respondent 1 and acted as his Polling Agent and canvassed for him, as the chances of the Swatantra candidate were slim.

50. Had the evidence of P. Ws. 6 and 00 stood by itself, it would not satisfy the test we have laid down with regard to accomplice evidence because, on their own showing both these witnesses were accomplices in that they were as much parties to the commission of this particular corrupt practice as Respondent-1 himself.

51-54. But there is the evidence of one independent witness which establishes that Respondent-1 and his agents had, during the election campaign, appealed to the caste affinity of the electors to capture their votes. That witness is P.W. 43 (Gantla Bhagwanth Reddy) (His Lordiship reviewed his evidence and continued).

We have no hesitation in agreeing with the the Tribunal in its estimate of the evidence of P. W. 43. In our opinion, he is an independent and truthful witness and his evidence taken along with the evidence of the witnesses referred to above, establishes beyond reasonable doubt that Respondent-1 and his agents had appealed to the electors to vote for Respondent-1 on the ground of caste and community.

55. P.W. 60, who also worked as a polling agent of Respondent-1, testified to his having toured in the company of Respondent-1 in Pedclakaparthy and the surrounding villages, and appealing to voters of the Reddy community to vote tor Respondent-1 on the ground of his being a Reddy. P.W. 60 further spoke to having written the inland letter, Ex. A-44, to P.W. 43 with a view to win him over to the Communist side by appealing to his caste feeling. The evidence of P.W. 60 receives ample corroboration from the independent testimony of P.W .13.

56. It follows from the foregoing discussion that the conclusion reached by the Tribunal that the corrupt practices of bribery and appeal to caste, have been proved beyond reasonable doubt, is unassailable, and consequently this appeal fails and is dismissed with costs of Respondents-1 and 2 to this appeal, who were the petitioners in the Election Petition. We fix the costs at Rs. 500.


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