Madras HC seeks ECI reply on DMK’s plea over pre-certification of election ads

The bench after hearing the petition asked the ECI to file the reply on April 17 and adjourned the hearing to the same date.
Image used for representational purposes
Image used for representational purposes

CHENNAI: The Madras High Court on Monday directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to file a reply to the petition moved by the DMK, challenging the legality of a clause in the rules governing the pre-certification of poll advertisements by political parties which states that appeals against the decisions of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) can be filed only before the Supreme Court.

The first bench of Chief Justice SV Gangapurwala and Justice J Sathya Narayana Prasad, after hearing the petition challenging the vires of Clause 3.8 of the Handbook for CEOs and DEOs on Media Matters, 2024, along with three other petitions on the rejection of permissions for advertisements, asked the ECI to file the reply on April 17 and adjourned the hearing to the same date.

The petition was filed by former MP and DMK’s Organisation Secretary RS Bharathi, challenging Clause 3 (3.8) - Part B of the Handbook released on August 24, 2023. It provides for filing appeals against the decisions of the State Level Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (SLMCMC), headed by the CEO, on pre-certification of poll advertisements only before the SC.

Appearing for the petitioner, former Advocate General R Shanmugasundaram noted that the state election authorities are performing public duties and are therefore instrumentalities of the state whose action can be subjected to judicial review by the high court.“Clause 3.8 violates the basic structure of the Constitution,” he told the court. He termed the decision of the State Level Certification Committee (SLCC) and the SLMCMC to reject the DMK’s application for pre-certification of advertisements, including the one where Stalin calls for protecting India, as arbitrary and done mechanically without application of the mind.

Citing the SC judgement in L Chandrakumar Vs Union of India (1997), the senior counsel said the appeal against the CEO’s decision could be challenged before the high court and sought a direction.

Representing the ECI, advocate Niranjan Rajagopalan submitted that the decisions of the SLMCMC cannot be challenged before the high court but can be done only before the top court. He stated that an order of the apex court in this regard has also been extended from time to time during elections.

However, the bench asked him to explain whether such an order was extended to the current polls.

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The New Indian Express