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4,000 invalid votes cast at M&G Bar Council election; Jain 'to the wire', below expectations

Bombay High Court
Bombay High Court

The preliminary count for the Maharashtra & Goa Bar Council election has completed with five clear front-runner candidates, although one in ten ballot papers have been invalidated amid a last-minute Supreme Court order.

The Supreme Court had indicated briefly before the election was held not to allow ballots with preferences for less than 10 candidates.

Maharashtra & Goa (M&G) Bar Council secretary and returning officer Varsha Rokade said: "About 4,000 are invalid votes – I will be giving a hearing on the invalid votes to the candidates on 8th [March]."

"But it is tentative figure and these days staff will be looking again at invalid votes," she added. A number of the candidates will have the opportunity to be present and receive a hearing when any of their votes are finally declared invalid. In the event of any objections, candidates are able to appeal to the Attorney General.

The first round of manual counting of 47,543 ballot papers has completed last week, with M&G Bar Council temporary staff having separated invalid votes and tentatively tallied up first preference votes for each of the 136 candidates.

While these results are only approximate and Rokade declined to confirm any figures, it is understood that several candidates have managed to pick up as many as 1,400 first preference votes so far.

Candidates Milind Shivshankar Thobde from Solapur and Nagpur's Aniruddha Krishnarao Choube are both understood to be currently in the lead, with around 1,400 first preference votes so far.

According to sources, Mumbai's Anil Chandrabali Singh and Aurangabad's Vasant Digamberrao Salunke have also made it into the top four, with more than 1,000 first votes each.

ALMT Legal partner Hitesh Jain, meanwhile, is preparing for the long-haul having come in at 48th place out of 136 after the early counting rounds at 380 first preference votes.

His original overall target of 725 first votes after Pune district's count in February was almost twice as large. Jain won only 152 votes in Mumbai, which was the last district to be counted.

Only the top 25 candidates will make it into the M&G Bar Council after second, third, fourth and lower preference votes are added to their tallies from eliminated candidates.

Jain said that he would wait to see the next 50 eliminated candidates and hope to pick up a number of lower preference votes, as the field between his current position and 25th was only a matter of a few hundred votes. "It's going to be a tight finish," he admitted. "It's going to go to the wire."

Jain explained that the invalidation of ballots was also a contributing factor, as "close to 50 or 60" of first preference votes cast for him in Mumbai had been invalidated, as some of his supporters had only voted for one candidate rather than expressing nine further preferences.

The Supreme Court made an order on 17 December 2009 – shortly before the M&G Bar Council polls on 7 January 2010 – which is understood to have indicated that ballots with less than 10 preference votes are invalid.

The next hearing in the Supreme Court case of Bar Council Of Maharashtra Vs Manubhai Paragji Vashi & Ors is listed as 06 August 2010. Legally India was not able to obtain a full copy of the Supreme Court's order at the time of going to press.

The case is the continuation of a Bombay High Court claim made after the 2004 M&G Bar Council elections that some voters were unfairly taken off the register, as well as contesting the 1968 Election Rules that voters must select a minimum of 10 candidates.

At the time the High Court held that ballots with less than 10 preference votes should not be invalidated, which contributed to the confusion at the present election.

The ballots in the current M&G Bar Council election will be fed into the electronic voting machine on 23 March due to public holidays in the intervening period, explained Rokade.

She added that the feeding of the electronic counting machines would take another 25 days to a month, with a final result expected in mid-to-late April 2010.

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