Bihar Poll: For 12 Seats, Crucial Form 20 Filled Later, Defying EC
Why did the observers of these 12 seats allow the ROs to declare election results without completing Form 20?
Can any school, college or university declare exam results without compiling the marks of all students? No.
Similarly, an election officer representing the Election Commission of India (EC) cannot declare an election result without compiling the vote count numbers of all candidates in its final result sheet or Form 20.
But it seems that some Returning Officers (ROs) in the 2020 Bihar Assembly Elections declared results without following this critical rule mentioned in The Conduct of Election Rules 1961.
“After the completion of counting, the returning officer shall record in the final result sheet, Form 20, the total number of votes polled by each candidate and announce the same. After this announcement, a candidate or, in his absence, his election agent, or any of his counting agents, may apply in writing to the returning officer to re-count the votes either wholly or in part stating the grounds for demanding such a re-count.”The Conduct of Election Rules 1961
If any candidate demands recounting in writing then it is the duty of the Returning Officer to access the demand and take action accordingly. If recounting happens partially or wholly, the Returning Officer will amend the Form 20 with the changes.
“The returning officer shall complete and sign the result sheet in Form 20 and no application for a re-count shall be entertained thereafter,” says The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
The Quint analysed the Form 20 submitted for all the 243 Assembly constituencies which were uploaded on the Bihar Election Commission website around the second week of January 2020.
While results were counted and declared for the Bihar Assembly eelections on 10 November, 2020, we found that in the case of 9 constituencies, the Form 20 was signed by the ROs on a much later date. While in the case of 3 constituencies, the printing date of the Form 20 differs from the date on which the RO signed the Form.
Above is a screenshot of the Form 20 from Riga constituency in Bihar. While counting and the declaration of the result happened on 10 November, the Form 20 of Riga constituency was signed only on 1 December, 2020. 20 days later. We have highlighted and enlarged the date for readers to examine.
The Quint has noticed the same problem in 9 constituencies, the Form 20 signed several days later, as we have listed below. You can click on the name of each constituency to see the Form 20 in each case:
So, why did the ROs declare these results without completing Form 20 as per The Conduct of Election Rules?
RO’s Signing Date & Form’s Printing Date Differ
The Quint also found that in case of 3 constituencies, Islampur, Bodh Gaya and Warsaliganj, the ROs appear to have signed the Form 20 with the date of 10 November 2020, BUT the date of printing of the Form 20 is seen to be a much later date.
For instance, in the case of Bodh Gaya constituency, take a look at the screenshot just below. While the printing date seen at the top of the Form 20 says 27 November, the RO has signed the Form with the date on which counting took place, i.e, 10 November. We have highlighted and enlarged both dates in the screenshot below, for readers to see for themselves.
The question is:
- Why did the RO back date his signature on the Form 20?
- Also, were the Form 20s for other Bihar Assembly constituencies genuinely signed on the day of counting or later? We ask because most of the final result sheets do not carry the printing date of the Form 20.
Of these 12 seats, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 9, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) won 2 and Janata Dal United (JDU) won 1.
RO’s Handbook Underlines the Importance of the Form 20
The Quint spoke to a former Chief Election Commissioner and a few Returning Officers who, on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the Form 20 or final result sheets are always prepared and signed right after the completion of vote counting.
Jagdeep Chhokar, the founder member of Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) said:
“Signing of the Form 20 several days after declaration of the result is a very serious issue which cannot be taken lightly. It is an extremely important document without which the result of the election cannot be declared.”
Apart from The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, the ‘Handbook for Returning Officers’, which is available on EC’s website, also speaks in detail about the significance of Form 20.
“Please note that any incorrect totalling will affect the election result. This, in turn, affects the declaration of result, which has to be made on the basis of Form 20. RO shall be held personally responsible for any inaccuracy / discrepancy in the Form. Any slackness shall be very seriously viewed by the Election Commission and severe disciplinary action will be taken against the RO.”
The Handbook also says that the Observers “will ensure that the Final Result Sheet in Form 20 is filled by the RO before he declares the result...”. The Observers are government officials who are appointed by the Election Commission to watch the conduct of election in a constituency.
The Observer has the power to direct RO to stop counting of votes any given point of time before the declaration of results if she/he suspect any wrongdoing.
Most importantly, the Handbook says that, “no RO shall declare the result without receiving the authorisation” from the Observer.
The Observer’s authorization letter has a fixed format which says,
“Observer Code (…), for… Assembly Constituency /Assembly Segment of……….Parliamentary constituency after having satisfied myself about the fairness of counting of votes and complete accuracy of compilation of result in Form-20 hereby authorize the Returning Officer for ……..Assembly Constituency to declare the result.”
Declaration of Bihar election results on 12 seats without the completion of Form 20 clearly point towards laziness on the part of ROs and poor supervision Observers at the constituency level.
The Quint has written to EC seeking a response on why RO did not follow the rules and declare results on 12 seats. EC’s reply is awaited.
One can only hope that EC follows this up with the concerned ROs and Observers. If corrupt candidates get wind of such gaps in the ECs legendary faultless conduct of elections, they could make serious attempts at subverting the election process and election results.
When such detailed instructions are available on the EC’s website about the role of the RO and importance of the Form 20, then why such glaring discrepancies in the Bihar polls?
Why did the observers of these 12 Bihar Assembly constituencies allow the ROs to declare election results without completing Form 20?
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