NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today kept in abeyance the June 23 order of the Election Commission (EC) disqualifying Madhya Pradesh minister Narottam Mishra for three years on charges of paid news.
Mishra's last ditch attempt to vote in the July 17 presidential election was dashed by the Delhi High Court on July 16 as it had refused to grant him any interim relief.
The apex court said that the matter involves substantial questions of law regarding the interpretation of the provisions of the Representation of the People Act and requested the Delhi High Court to hear Mishra's pending appeal expeditiously, preferably within two weeks.
However, the division bench of the high court had said that there was no urgency for hearing Mishra's appeal against its single judge decision upholding his disqualification and it would be heard by a regular bench later.
The apex court today said, "We are of the opinion that the matter involves substantial questions of law regarding the interpretation of various provisions of the Representation of People Act (sections 10A, 77, 78, 123 etc),"
"In the circumstances, we are of the opinion that the ends of justice would be met in the instant case by requesting the High Court of Delhi to hear the above-mentioned LPA expeditiously preferably within a period of two weeks from today."
The bench said, "We also deem it appropriate, in the circumstances, to keep the operation of the order of the Election Commission dated June 23, 2017, referred to supra, in abeyance".
The apex court, while disposing of Mishra's plea, made it clear that it has not expressed any opinion regarding any question or any matter on merits.
The high court had on July 16 dismissed Mishra's plea for an interim stay of its single judge July 14 order, upholding the EC's decision disqualifying him on the charges of paid news.
The single judge bench had on July 14 said that as per the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, the disqualification of a candidate has to be from the date of the order.
The BJP leader had contended before the high court that the EC's order disqualifying him pertained to an election of 2008 and that his subsequent tenure from 2013 would remain unaffected.
The matter had reached the Delhi High Court after the apex court on July 12 transferred the matter to it to be decided expeditiously before the July 17 presidential polls.
The EC's order had held him guilty of filing wrong accounts of election expense relating to articles and advertorials in the media during the 2008 assembly polls.
The poll panel's order had come on a complaint by Congress leader Rajendra Bharti, who had contested the polls against Mishra in the 2008 assembly elections.
Mishra had contested the EC's decision on the grounds of delay in proceedings and that no evidence showed he had authorised paid news articles.
While disqualifying Mishra from contesting elections for three years, the poll panel had used some strong words against paid news, calling it a "cancerous menace" that is assuming "alarming proportions" in the electoral landscape.
Mishra, who won from Datia assembly constituency, was the minister for water resources and public relations and the chief spokesperson of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government.
The poll panel order had said that all the 42 news items that had appeared in five Hindi dailies were "extremely biased in favour of" Mishra.
It had said that its findings had also strengthened the conclusion that he had "knowingly participated or took advantage of the expenditure on such advertisements" that had appeared as news in the publication.