The Election Commission has disqualified Madhya Pradesh minister Narottam Mishra for three years over paid news charges, holding him guilty of not giving a true account of expenses incurred in the 2008 assembly polls.
Disqualifying Mishra, a Cabinet minister, from contesting elections for three years following a complaint against him, the commission also used some strong words against paid news, calling it a “cancerous menace” that is assuming “alarming proportions” in the electoral landscape. His election from the Datia assembly constituency also stands void.
A full bench of the Election Commission comprising Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi and Election Commissioners A K Joti and O P Rawat in its order indicting Mishra unseated him under various sections of the Representation of the People Act. The 69-page order was issued on Friday.
Mishra, who won from Datia assembly constituency, is the minister for water resources and public relations and is the chief spokesperson of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government.
Rajendra Bharti, the main complainant in the case, had first sent a complaint to the EC about 8 years back in 2009.
The order said all the 42 news items, that appeared in five Hindi dailies, were “extremely biased in favour of” Mishra, adding its findings also strengthened the conclusion that he “knowingly participated or took advantage of the expenditure on such advertisements” that appeared as news in the publications.
The EC order sparked a demand for Mishra’s resignation from the Congress while the minister said he would challenge it before the MP high court. Miahra rejected the demand for his resignation.
“The Commission finds that irrespective of whether the alleged expenditure when added to the respondent’s reported account, breaches the permissible limit or not, the fact remains that the respondent has not only knowingly submitted a false account of expenses, but also attempted to circumvent the legally prescribed limit on expenditure.
Such attempts need to be curbed with strong measures and visited with exemplary sanctions and restore the balance in the electoral playing field,” the order indicting Mishra said.
Accordingly, it said, the Commission declares that Mishra stands disqualified for three years from the date of this order under section 10A read with sections 77 and 78 of the RP Act for failure to lodge his account of election expenses in the manner required by the law and for having no good reason or justification for such failure.
“In view of the EC order, he should immediately resign from the Cabinet,” the leader of opposition, Ajay Singh said.
Mishra told reporters in Bhopal that according to legal experts the disqualification order was “infructuous.”
To press his point, he said that the EC delivered its judgment based on the case relating to his win in 2008 MP assembly polls from Datia seat.
“After that I have won the people’s mandate in 2013 MP assembly polls,” he said.
“My advocate has told me that the case (his disqualification) was related to paid news. Neither the petitioner has provided a document to corroborate paid news charge against me, nor there is a mention of it in the Election Commission’s order,” he claimed.
Elaborating on its order, the EC said, “This (paid news) phenomenon, a manifestation of the pernicious effect of money in elections, has been growing increasingly vicious and spreading like cancer, in recent times.
“It is a grave electoral malpractice which circumvents election expenditure limits, disturbs the level playing field and militates against the voters’ right to accurate
information to enable him to make informed choice,” it said.
The Commission said the common man gives more credence to news in newspapers than to advertisements of political parties and hence the publication of advertisements in the garb of news by way of paid news “amounts to deceiving the electorate.”
The order said Mishra and witnesses appearing on his behalf, in their defence, repeatedly denied having made payment for any news item, rather than specifically denying knowledge regarding the same.