Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has denied that he spent money for publication of reports in his favour in local newspapers in the run-up to the Assembly elections during September-October last year.

The Election Commission is examining the reply and has not taken any decision.

Mr. Chavan questioned the EC’s right to seek his “comments” on the charge of “paid news” as his expenditure account was the subject matter of an election petition pending before the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court.

The Chief Minister was replying to the EC’s letter sent to him a few days ago seeking his comments by February 1. The Commission sent the letter following complaints that Mr. Chavan spent money on “paid news” for reports in his favour in local newspapers and that he did not account for this expenditure in his expenditure accounts.

The reply, signed by Mr. Chavan, was on Friday handed over to the full Commission — Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla and Election Commissioners S.Y. Quraishi and V.S. Sampath — by his wife Ameeta, who was Mr. Chavan’s chief election agent during the polls and legal counsel.

Mr. Chavan pointed out that he submitted the election expenditure to the authority concerned in time and prima facie this was approved by the District Election Officer (Returning Officer) with the endorsement that it was “in the prescribed format” and “in order.”

He added that he had no role in the news stories relating to him (allegedly due to payment of money) and that the stories made no mention of an appeal for votes (in his favour).

Mr. Chavan said it was natural for those who lost the elections to make allegations against the winning candidate.

Court verdict quoted

Informed sources said the Chief Minister quoted a Supreme Court verdict that once the election expenditure accounts were submitted by a candidate and accepted, the same could not be re-examined.

However, the sources said, this argument might not hold water as the verdict was given before the provision on election expenditure was amended in 2003 in the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Mr. Chavan was elected from Bhokar in Nanded district in the October 13, 2009 poll.

The EC, which forwarded to him various complaints, including those from the BJP, pointed out that three Marathi newspapers carried identical reports praising him, with different headlines.

The Hindu earlier wrote series of articles on Mr. Chavan having “paid” newspapers to carry stories in his favour. Identical stories appeared in different newspapers during the Assembly election campaign.

On January 6, a BJP delegation met the full EC to seek strong and punitive action against Mr. Chavan who “abetted” in the “errant action of the press.”

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