Strongly opposing government's stand, the Election Commission has asserted that it has the powers to disqualify a candidate for lodging false accounts of election expenditure.
Submitting its affidavit in the Supreme Court in the paid news case of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, the EC had made its position clear and aggressively defended its powers against the Law Ministry submission that the Commission does not have the powers to disqualify a candidate on account of filing wrong election expenditure accounts.
"...the Election Commission verily believes and understands that its powers under section 10 A are not merely ministerial so as to receive the report of a District Election Officer to deal only with the proforma of submission of account or the time limit within which the account has to be submitted.
"That in any case, the EC also believes that the Legislature, in its wisdom, would not prescribe the power to impose a severe punishment of disqualification on a candidate for a period of three years for a mere ministerial violation of failure to comply with the requisite proforma with some mere procedural requirement of lodging of account in a prescribed proforma and not for a greater and more serious lapse of not maintaining the correct account," the EC said in its affidavit.
The EC said that it is just not in the mere business of record keeping of expenditure of a candidate fighting polls but it also has powers to take action against those who submit false or wrong information in this regard to it.
The EC affidavit added that "....if there is a failure on the part of a candidate to maintain correct account of his election expenses, the Election Commission is within its powers to take a decision within Rule 89(5) of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 and order disqualification under section 10 A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951."
"If a candidate incurs election expenses far above the ceiling prescribed, but shows incorrect account of election expenses to the EC, and there is no Election Petition filed against him, it will be preposterous to say that the EC cannot take any action in such cases, although the EC has evidence to the contrary that the election expense accounts so filed are untrue or incorrect and not based on facts. This will disturb the level playing field and impinge on conduct of free and fair elections," it said.
The EC, in its affidavit, has interpreted section 10A of the RP Act which deals with "disqualification for failure to lodge account of election expenses" as the Law Ministry has said that the power of the Election Commission to disqualify a person arises "only in the event of failure to lodge an account of expenses and not for any other reason, including the correctness or otherwise of such accounts."
The EC, in its affidavit, has also cited a 1999 Supreme Court order in case of Shivaramagowda vs P M Chandrasekhar where the apex court had "conclusively settled" the issue saying the question of incorrectness or untrue statements of election expenses lodged with the EC by the candidate can be enquired into by the EC under Section 10A of the RP Act, 1951.
A final ruling on this issue by the apex court will not only decide the political fate of Chavan but also other candidates who have been penalised with disqualification by the EC for similar charges of submitting wrong election expenditure accounts.
Those disqualified by the EC till now include former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda, Uttar Pradesh MLA Umlesh Yadav and BJP leader and minister in Madhya Pradesh Cabinet Narottam Mishra.