Supreme Court Upholds Candidates' Right to Privacy in Electoral Asset Disclosure Case

Supreme Court rules voters don't have absolute right to know candidates' every asset. Upholds Karikho Kri's election, emphasizing right to privacy.

In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court of India has emphasized the right to privacy of candidates contesting elections, stating that voters do not have an absolute right to know about each and every asset owned by them or their family members. The bench of Justice Aniruddha Bose and Justice PV Sanjay Kumar made this observation while upholding the election of Independent MLA Karikho Kri from Tezu constituency in the 2019 Arunachal Pradesh Assembly elections.

The verdict overturned a previous decision by the Gauhati High Court, which had declared Kri's election null and void on the grounds of alleged false declarations in his nomination papers. The High Court had held that Kri failed to disclose the ownership of three vehicles belonging to his wife and son, which the petitioner argued amounted to a corrupt practice under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

However, the Supreme Court held that the non-disclosure of movable property, such as vehicles, does not constitute a substantial defect in a candidate's nomination. The court emphasized that a candidate's right to privacy must be respected, particularly in matters irrelevant to their candidature for public office. The bench stated, "It is not an absolute right for any voter to delve deep into the private life of a candidate, and each and every disclosure has to be of such nature which will impact the voting."

Furthermore, the court clarified that candidates need not disclose every item of movable property unless it reflects a substantial value or luxurious lifestyle that could impact their candidature. The judgment underscores the principle that disclosure requirements should be proportionate to their relevance to the electoral process. While candidates are expected to provide information about assets that may influence voters' perceptions of their suitability for office, they are not obligated to reveal details that are immaterial to their candidacy.

The Supreme Court's ruling strikes a balance between transparency in electoral processes and the right to privacy of candidates. By recognizing that not all assets need to be disclosed and that voters' right to information is not absolute, the court has provided clarity on the scope of electoral disclosure requirements. This decision is likely to have implications for future election cases and may lead to a more nuanced approach to assessing the validity of nomination papers.