(1.)I .A. No. 134044 of 2019 for intervention in C.A. Nos. 20825-20826 of 2017 is allowed.
(2.)These Civil Appeals have been referred to a Bench of three honourable Judges of this Court by a Division Bench reference order dated 26.07.2019, dealing with the interpretation of Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 ("Evidence Act") by two judgments of this Court. In the reference order, after quoting from Anvar P.V. vs. P.K. Basheer and Ors. (2014) 10 SCC 473 (a three Judge Bench decision of this Court), it was found that a Division Bench judgment in SLP (Crl.) No. 9431 of 2011 reported as Shafhi Mohammad vs. State of Himachal Pradesh (2018) 2 SCC 801 may need reconsideration by a Bench of a larger strength.
(3.)The brief facts necessary to appreciate the controversy in the present case, as elucidated in Civil Appeals 20825-20826 of 2017, are as follows:
i. Two election petitions were filed by the present Respondents before the Bombay High Court under Sections 80 and 81 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, challenging the election of the present Appellant, namely, Shri Arjun Panditrao Khotkar (who is the Returned Candidate [hereinafter referred to as the "RC"] belonging to the Shiv Sena party from 101-Jalna Legislative Assembly Constituency) to the Maharashtra State Legislative Assembly for the term commencing November, 2014. Election Petition No.6 of 2014 was filed by the defeated Congress (I) candidate Shri Kailash Kishanrao Gorantyal, whereas Election Petition No.9 of 2014 was filed by one Shri Vijay Chaudhary, an elector in the said constituency. The margin of victory for the RC was extremely narrow, namely 296 votes - the RC having secured 45,078 votes, whereas Shri Kailash Kishanrao Gorantyal secured 44,782 votes.
ii. The entirety of the case before the High Court had revolved around four sets of nomination papers that had been filed by the RC. It was the case of the present Respondents that each set of nomination papers suffered from defects of a substantial nature and that, therefore, all four sets of nomination papers, having been improperly accepted by the Returning Officer of the Election Commission, one Smt. Mutha, (hereinafter referred to as the "RO"), the election of the RC be declared void. In particular, it was the contention of the present Respondents that the late presentation of Nomination Form Nos. 43 and 44 by the RC -inasmuch as they were filed by the RC after the stipulated time of 3.00 p.m. on 27.09.2014 - rendered such nomination forms not being filed in accordance with the law, and ought to have been rejected.
iii. In order to buttress this submission, the Respondents sought to rely upon video-camera arrangements that were made both inside and outside the office of the RO. According to the Respondents, the nomination papers were only offered at 3.53 p.m. (i.e. beyond 3.00 p.m.), as a result of which it was clear that they had been filed out of time. A specific complaint making this objection was submitted by Shri Kailash Kishanrao Gorantyal before the RO on 28.09.2014 at 11.00 a.m., in which it was requested that the RO reject the nomination forms that had been improperly accepted. This request was rejected by the RO on the same day, stating that the nomination forms had, in fact, been filed within time.