NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court today set aside the Election Commission's (EC) decision to disqualify Madhya Pradesh minister Narottam Mishra on charges of paid news, saying there was no proof to show he incurred expenses, directly or indirectly, on news articles favouring him.
A bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Sunil Gaur allowed the plea of Mishra, the state Minister of Public Relations, Water Resources and Parliamentary Affairs, challenging the poll panel's June 23, 2017 decision disqualifying him.
The EC had also held him guilty of filing wrong accounts of election expenses relating to the articles and advertorials in the media during the 2008 assembly polls in the state.
The poll panel's order had come on a complaint by Congress leader Rajendra Bharti, who had contested against Mishra in the elections in which the BJP leader had won.
Mishra, who won from Datia Assembly constituency, had moved the Supreme Court on July 12 last year against the EC's decision, claiming there was delay in the proceedings and there was no evidence which showed he had authorised the paid news articles.
The apex court had transferred the matter to the Delhi High Court to be decided expeditiously before the July 17, 2017 presidential poll.
A single judge of the High Court had on July 14 last upheld the EC's decision.
Mishra's plea for an interim stay against the order to enable him vote in the presidential election, was declined by a division bench on July 16.
He had, thereafter, moved the apex court.
The top court on July 28, 2017 had kept the poll panel's decision in abeyance and requested the Delhi High Court to expeditiously hear his appeal.
The BJP leader had contended before the high court that the EC's order disqualifying him pertained to an election in 2008 and his subsequent tenure from 2013 would remain unaffected.
The single judge bench had on July 14, 2017 said that according to the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, the disqualification of a candidate has to be from the date of the order.
While disqualifying him from contesting elections for three years, the poll panel had used some strong words against paid news, calling it a "cancerous menace" that was assuming "alarming proportions" in the electoral landscape.
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 publications.