Supreme Court stays proceedings before the Election Commission
The former Maharashtra Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan, charged with understating expenses he incurred during the 2009 polls, earned a respite on Thursday with the Supreme Court staying the proceedings before the Election Commission (EC).
A three-judge Bench of Justices Altamas Kabir, S.S. Nijjar and Jasti Chelameswar stayed the proceedings after hearing the petitioner's senior counsel Gopal Subramaniam, who assailed the Delhi High Court order allowing a probe by the EC.
The Bench issued notice to the EC, the Maharashtra unit of the BJP and other complainants, including BJP leaders Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Kirit Somaiya, on whose petitions the probe was initiated, to file a response and two weeks thereafter, a rejoinder, and posted the matter for further hearing on December 2.
In his appeal, Mr. Chavan maintained that the articles which appeared in the newspapers were nothing but an independent assessment by the media regarding the achievements and functioning of the government and that no bills were raised by the newspapers. He said it must be noted that in none of these reports were votes solicited. He said a record of expenses was strictly maintained and lodged with the District Election Officer and no irregularity had been found by the authorities.
Mr. Subramaniam said the Chief Election Officer, Maharashtra, obtained comments from four newspapers on the allegation of ‘paid news' and they had denied that any payment had been made to them.
Mr. Subramaniam drew the Supreme Court's attention to the fact that a petition was already pending in the Bombay High Court challenging Mr. Chavan's election and that the validity of his election expenses was now sub judice. He said the Special Leave Petition raised an important legal question — whether the EC has the jurisdiction under Section 10A of the Representation of the People Act to conduct an enquiry to determine whether the return of expenses maintained and filed by an election candidate was false and whether the candidate has incurred expenses beyond the limit prescribed under the Act.
Mr. Subramaniam said: “Propriety demands that the possibility of two contradictory verdicts by two different forums [one by the High Court and the other by the EC] should be avoided. Hence the SLP seeking to quash the Delhi High Court judgment dated September 30 and to stay the EC's proceedings scheduled for November 4.