NEW DELHI: The Election Commission on Sunday issued a show-cause notice to former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, for his failure to include the money spent on advertisements during his 2009 election campaign in his poll expenses. Chavan has been given 20 days to respond to the notice, clarifying why he should not be disqualified.
The commission’s detailed order, issued on Sunday, could prove to be landmark if it goes on to disqualify Chavan. The case came to be known as the issue of ‘paid news’, as several news items, eulogising Chavan’s work, had appeared in Maharashtra’s papers ahead of the state Assembly elections. The articles were not classified as advertisements and were more in nature of advertorials.
Chavan is the current Lok Sabha MP from Nanded, Maharashtra. If then panel rules against him, he will be disqualified for three years, from contesting elections.
The order was passed by the full Bench of the EC, comprising Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) V S Sampath and Election Commissioners H S Brahma and S N A Zaidi. According to the complainants, including Chavan’s rival candidates and several BJP leaders like Kirit Somaiya and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Chavan got several advertisements published in various regional newspapers during the poll campaign. They contended that the news published in favour of Chavan were indeed paid for.
The complainants had alleged that Chavan showed an expense of only `5,379 towards the expenses on newspapers advertisements in his account, whereas the original expenditure on ‘paid news’ ran into several crore rupees, and this was suppressed.
On the issue of advertisements given to visits of Sonia Gandhi, Salman Khan, Jyotiraditya Scindia for Chavan’s election campaign, the Commission said Chavan could not feign ignorance on these advertisements. “The respondent had given his authorisation and consent for the expenditure incurred in the publication of those advertisements in the newspapers. The respondent cannot feign ignorance about the large number of advertisements relating to these important election campaign activities. He also cannot validly contend that the action may be taken under section 171H of the IPC and section 127A of the 1951-Act, against those persons who were responsible for the publication of these advertisements without his knowledge or consent,” the 104-page order said.
The commission further ruled that Chavan’s plea that even if the total amount of expenditure on the advertisements, which, according to his calculation comes to `16,924 is added to his expenditure of `6,85,192 incurred or authorised by him in connection with his election, such total expenditure would come nowhere near the maximum limit of `10 lakh, as permissible under the law.
The full team of the commission will visit Maharashtra on Monday to oversee the arrangements for the state elections due later this year. It will hold a series of meetings with the state officials over steps to be undertaken ahead of the polls.