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Updated: May 9, 2012 01:49 IST

With SC clearing decks, EC to resume paid news probe against Chavan

J Balaji
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With the Supreme Court giving its nod reopening the probe into non-filing of proper accounts of election expenditure, vis-?-vis “paid news” against the former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, the Election Commission has fixed a fresh hearing for May 17.

Most probably the EC will decide to have a daily hearing as Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi is demitting office on June 10, informed sources said.

The issue was first exposed by The Hindu. Campaign advertisements in support of Mr. Chavan, who contested from Bhokar in the October 13, 2009 Assembly poll, were issued in Hindi and Marathi newspapers, camouflaging them as news items. An Independent and BJP representatives have complained to the EC that Mr. Chavan had not included the money spent on such advertisements in his election expenditure accounts and thus violated the EC rules. On November 3, 2011, a Bench of Justices Altamas Kabir, S.S. Nijjar and J. Chelameswar temporarily stopped the EC from going into Mr. Chavan's poll account, following his appeal against a Delhi High Court order, which had allowed the probe.

However, on May 2 this year, a Bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and J. Chelameshwar said the EC could go ahead with the probe but the findings should not be made public.

The EC had begun proceedings against Mr. Chavan on April 2, 2011 on complaints that he had shown it a poll expenditure of merely Rs. 11,000 despite his having paid money to various newspapers for favourable coverage of his campaign.

Mr. Chavan challenged the EC action in the High Court, which, however, ruled that the Commission was well within its rights to probe his account.

The complainants, who sought disqualification of Mr. Chavan, referred to Chapter III and Section 10A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. “If the Election Commission is satisfied that a person has failed to lodge an account of election expenses within the time and in the manner required by or under this Act, and has no good reason or justification for the failure, the EC shall, by an order published in the Official Gazette, declare him disqualified. Any such person shall be disqualified for three years from the date of the order.”

Mr. Chavan argued that there was no mention of his seeking votes in any of the advertisements. The election expenditure was submitted to the authority concerned in time and prima facie this was approved by the District Election Officer (Returning Officer). He had no role to play in the news stories, Mr. Chavan claimed.

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