Union Minister Smriti Irani got a shocker from a Delhi court as it took cognizance of a complaint accusing her of furnishing false information about her academic qualifications in affidavits she had filed before the Election Commission on different occasions.
The court posted the matter for August 28 when the scribe, who has filed the complaint, will be given an opportunity to record his statement and submit evidence to support the allegations that the human resource development minister has given false information to the poll panel in the affidavits filed in 2004, 2011 and 2014. It has been alleged that in the three affidavits filed with the nominations for her candidature for Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha polls, she had purportedly given different details about her educational qualifications.
Metropolitan Magistrate Akash Jain, who decided to record pre-summoning evidence, ruled out technical objections like delay in filing the complaint now when the first affidavit was filed by Irani way back in 2004 when she had contested the Lok Sabha poll from the Chandni Chowk constituency and the second affidavit when she had entered Rajya Sabha in 2011.
The court, after recording the pre-summoning evidence, will decide whether there is enough material to go into the merits of the complaint against Irani, who under law, is not required at this stage to counter the allegations in the court.
In its five-page order, the court held that the issue of delay in launching a criminal prosecution may be considered at the stage of arriving at a final decision and this might not be a ground for dismissing a complaint.
"Keeping in view the date of filing of final affidavit, containing alleged false information by accused/respondent (Irani), i.e. April 16, 2014 and while affording the benefit of section 469(1)(b) CrPC to complainant, it is held that the complaint in question is filed by complainant within the stipulated period of limitation," the court said.
"While taking cognizance upon the complaint, the matter be now fixed for pre-summoning evidence," it said.
The complaint was filed by freelance writer Ahmer Khan, who has alleged that Irani in her affidavits filed before the Election Commission of India had purportedly given different details about her educational qualifications.
In its order, the court said, "It is well settled that the question of delay in launching a criminal prosecution may be a circumstance to be taken into consideration while arriving at a final decision."
"However, the same may not by itself be a ground for dismissing the complaint at the threshold. Procedure is meant to subserve and not overrule the cause of justice. Technical objections which tend to defeat and deny substantial justice should be strictly discouraged," it said.
The court also dealt with the matter regarding the absence of any complaint from the returning officer on the issue.
"Without going into the merits of the case at this stage, the first question which has arisen before the court for consideration is that in the absence of any complaint by the returning officer concerned, whether the cognizance can be taken of the complaint in hand at the instance of complainant who is a freelance writer in Delhi," the court said.
Referring to a Supreme Court judgement and a circular issued by the ECI, the court said "it is clear from aforesaid that it is not incumbent for the returning officer to move the court in relation to any complaint about a false affidavit. Any aggrieved person may file a complaint under the Act before court of competent jurisdiction."
The court also observed that perusal of the provisions of Representation of People Act 1951, especially section 125 A, "it does not appear that returning officer has to take any step for initiating any criminal proceedings."
In the order, the magistrate dealt with two issues as to whether the complaint has been filed within the period of limitation as stipulated under the provision of CrPC and if cognisance of the complaint could be taken. As per Section 468 of CrPC, the period of limitation is one year for the offence under Section 125A of Representation of People Act dealing with penalty for filing false affidavit.
The offence under Section 125A of the Act entails a jail term of up to six months or fine or both. In its order, the court noted that the complainant's counsel had argued that final affidavit filed by Irani in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from Amethi, was allegedly defective and not in tune with her previous affidavits furnished regarding her educational qualifications. The counsel had also argued that even if the date of filing of alleged false affidavit, April 16, 2014, was to be considered, then the complaint was clearly within the period of limitation as it was filed on April 13, 2015.
The magistrate said that arguments advanced by the counsel regarding the issue of limitation "hold merit".
While pronouncing the order, the court said that the complainant had filed an affidavit before it on June 19 in which he has stated that no other complaint against Irani on this issue was filed by him in any other courts.
The court had on June one reserved the order on the plea after hearing arguments on the aspect of limitation and whether cognizance of the complaint could be taken or not.
Senior advocate K K Manan, appearing for Khan, had told the court that in her affidavit for April 2004 Lok Sabha polls, Irani had said that she completed her BA in 1996 from Delhi University (School of Correspondence) whereas in another affidavit of July 11, 2011 for contesting Rajya Sabha election from Gujarat, she said her highest educational qualification was B.Com Part I from the School of Correspondence, DU.
The complaint alleged that in the affidavit filed for nomination of April 16, 2014 Lok Sabha polls from Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh, Irani said she had completed the Bachelor of Commerce Part-I from School of Open Learning, DU. "It is evident from the contents of the affidavits filed by Smriti Z Irani that at best only one of the depositions by her on oath in respect of her educational qualifications is correct," the complaint alleged.
"The aforesaid affidavits of Smriti Irani, apart from the ostensibly false and discrepant statements in respect of her educational qualifications, also appear to contain false/discrepant statements in respect of immovable properties owned by her and other details set out by her," it claimed.
"The aforesaid facts and circumstances reveal commission of offences by accused under section 125A of Representation of People Act, 1951, besides any other offences that may attract other penal provisions as an outcome of an additional investigation," the plea alleged.