Delhi High Court sets aside EC’s order and show cause notice issued to him; says poll panel failed to comply with the Conduct of Elections Rules

New Delhi : In a relief to former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, the Delhi High Court on Friday set aside the Election Commission’s order holding him guilty of furnishing incorrect expenses for the 2009 Assembly elections, PTI reports.

The court also set aside the show cause notice issued to him by saying the poll panel failed to comply with the Conduct of Elections Rules, according to which a candidate is entitled to an opportunity of an explanation within 20 days on whether expenses disclosed by him are correct, prior to giving a finding.  In the instant case, however, the issuance of show cause notice was rendered only an “idle formality” and only a ritual of passing a consequential order was left over, the court observed.

 “Therefore, the representation pursuant to the show cause notice would be rendered meaningless as the final conclusion is a fait accompli. Therefore, such show cause notice is meaningless,” Justice Suresh Kait said in his 101-page judgement setting aside EC’s order.

 The complaint in the EC had alleged that Chavan had not declared expenses pertaining to some advertisements that were released in October 2009 regarding a meeting that was to be held between the members of the UPA.

Opposing the complaint by BJP leaders Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Kirit Somaiya as well as Independent candidate Madhavrao Kinhalkar, Chavan had contended that he did not know who had issued the advertisements.

 Upholding his argument, the high court said that he had “duly accounted” for expenditure on advertisements that were in his knowledge and if publishers of the ads in question did not bring it to his notice, “he could not be expected or required to account for those expenditure.”

The court also observed that “even if the entire amount against all the disputed advertisements is included in the election expenses of the petitioner, it does not exceed the ceiling limit of Rs 10,00,000.  Allowing Chavan’s appeal against the EC’s July 13 order, the court said that even if the expenditure on some of the advertisements was not included in his poll expenses, it was “purely unintentional and an accidental omission without any intention of suppressing any expenditure incurred or authorised by him”.

It also said that if any expenditure was incurred in publishing advertisements by anyone without the petitioner’s authorisation, those individuals have committed electoral offences punishable under the Indian Penal Code as well as Representation of the People Act for their lapses and not the petitioner.  “There was no evidence before the Commission that inputs of the advertisements were provided by the petitioner. Moreover, the meetings were not exclusively for the petitioner, but the same were for the multiple candidates set up by United Progressive Alliance,” the court said.

 “Thus, there was no express authorisation in any form given by the petitioner to any such advertiser. Moreover, it is nobody’s case that the expenditure on the advertisements was, in fact, incurred by the petitioner. No case was made out that there was any promise to reimburse the expenses, if any, made by the petitioner or his election agent.

 “No price in cash or in kind has been paid or even promised as a consideration against the alleged publication by the petitioner or his election agent. In addition, there is no evidence from the newspaper establishments about raising any bills in the name of the petitioner,” the court said.

 The poll panel, in its order, had given Chavan, an MP from Nanded parliamentary seat, a 20-day deadline to respond to the show cause notice which was issued after it found him guilty of failing to “lodge his account of election expenses in the manner required by the (Representation of the People) Act and Rules”.

 In its show cause notice, the poll panel had asked Chavan why he should not be disqualified for failing to give his true and correct expenses incurred in last Assembly polls.

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