In fresh trouble for former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, the Election Commission on Sunday slapped a showcause notice on him for failing to lodge his election expenses as per law in a paid news case and asked him why he should not be disqualified.
Setting a 20-day deadline to respond to the notice, the Commission said he has "failed to lodge his account of election expenses in the manner required by the (Representation of the People) Act and rules."
The EC, on the directions of the Supreme Court, had issued a notice to Chavan in May last to appear before it in connection with the case of alleged expenses made by him during the 2009 Maharashtra assembly polls which were categorised as "paid news".
If Chavan is disqualified by the EC, it may have an impact on his Lok Sabha membership also though the issue relates to his contesting the assembly polls.
The EC order said a candidate who is declared disqualified by the Commission under Section 10 of the RP Act "incurs disqualification for contesting further elections to any House of Parliament or state legislature for a period of three years, "and also for continuing as member of any such House if he is already a sitting member from the date of the order of the Election Commission and not from the date on which he contested the election or was elected at such election."
"Therefore, the resignation of the respondent from the membership of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly on May 22, 2014, has no effect or impact on the continuance of the present proceedings before the Commission and the proceedings shall continue unabated until logical conclusion thereof," Paragraph 70 of the EC order said.
The full bench of the EC comprising Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath and Election Commissioners H S Brahma and SNA Zaidi issued the 104-page order. It had reserved its decision on the issue on June 19.
When contacted, Chavan said he will respond to the notice after examining it.
Chavan, who became CM of Maharashtra in December, 2008 replacing Vilasrao Deshmukh, said that the show cause notice issued to him by the Election Commission has vindicated his and the Congress' stand and "there is no question of paid news."
"Our stand on the paid news issue has been confirmed by the Election Commission. Even the high court and Supreme Court had taken a similar stand when our opponents had filed a petition. The courts had rejected their petition. Now this (EC) order is also very clear. There is no question of paid news," Chavan told PTI.
When asked to comment on the EC order which says that he has failed to file his election expenses in the requisite manner, Chavan said, "There is a provision under which a notice can be served to us. We will reply to that. I have not seen the order in detail yet. But (the issue of) paid news is ruled out totally."
The poll panel said it is quite clear that despite knowledge and awareness on his part, Chavan did not show the expenditure made on the publication of 25 advertisements in his account of election expenses. "He has thus failed to lodge the account of his election expenses in the manner required by or under the law. His plea is of no avail that even if the total amount of expenditure on the abovementioned advertisements, which according to his calculation comes to Rs 16,924, is added to his expenditure of Rs 6,85,192 incurred or authorised by him in connection with his election, such total expenditure would come nowhere near the maximum limit of Rs 10 lakh as permissible under the law," the order said.
It said if such a plea is accepted by the EC, then every candidate would "get a license" to file an incorrect or false statement and, if caught, may contend that the suppressed expenditure may be added to his account of election expenses.
"This would frustrate and defeat the very object underlying the provisions of Section 77 requiring the maintenance of true account of election expenses and of section 10A of the 1951 Act providing for disqualification for filing an incorrect or false account," the EC observed.
In October, 2011, the Election Commission had Umlesh Yadav, a member of Legislative Assembly from Uttar Pradesh for three years for incorrect statement of election expenditure incurred on 'news items' in two Hindi dailies.
It was the first case of action against a politician for 'paid news' syndrome. She belonged to Rashtriya Parivartan Dal, headed by controversial politician D P Yadav.
The EC said it is bound by the law made by Parliament and is duty bound to follow the same, particularly where the law so enacted does not give any discretion to the Commission or leeway in the matter of its application.
Image: Former Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan has to respond to the EC in 20 days