New Delhi: The Election Commission (EC) of India’s historic decision on Thursday to disqualify an elected member of the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly from contesting again for three years, for furnishing wrong information on poll expenditure, is expected to have far-reaching ramifications as it becomes the guiding principle for other high-profile cases pending before it.
Umlesh Yadav of the Rashtriya Parivartan Dal has been barred from completing the remaining four months of her tenure for not declaring the amount she spent on advertisements in two Hindi dailies that were masquerading as news items—commonly referred to as paid news. The ban is effective 20 October.
EC now has a precedent for dealing with two other high-profile cases of paid news pending before it—that of Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan and former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda. While Chavan’s case comes up before the commission on 4 November, Koda’s case, which was to be taken up on Friday, has been postponed. “This is the first such instance of us taking stringent action against paid news. We have two petitions before us and as per law; we will obviously apply similar parameters,” said a senior EC official, who declined to be named.
Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said, “We respect whatever decision EC has taken and are hopeful that they will take care of paid news in the near future.”
Nilotpal Basu, a central committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), agreed. “In our fight against corruption, we need solid, thorough electoral reforms where very comprehensive measures need to be taken in eliminating muscle and money power.”
Under different sections of the Representation of the People Act, a candidate is required to maintain an account of election expenses and ensure these do not exceed the prescribed limit. Candidates have to file expenses with EC within 30 days from the date of declaration of election results. In case of misstating expenditure, they can be served a notice and disqualified for three years. If already elected by the time the scrutiny is completed, they may lose the seat.
Yadav can approach the courts. “There is no provision for appeal under our rules for cases like these. However, the concerned person can appeal to the high court under article 226 by filing a writ petition and to the Supreme Court as a special leave petition under article 136,” said another EC official, who declined to be identified.
Media firms welcomed the action. Ravi Dhariwal, president (print) at Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd, said the Times Group fully supported such efforts.
“This kind of revenue is not worth having, it isn’t rightfully earned,” Dhariwal said in an email response. In his view, newspapers will be better and more trustworthy only if they stayed away from paid news.
Rajiv Verma, chief executive officer of HT Media Ltd, said EC’s action “is aimed to curb the deplorable practice of paid news, which our media group strongly condemns and strictly avoids”.
Hindustan Times and Mint, published by HT Media, compete with Bennett, Coleman’s The Times of India and The Economic Times in several markets.
Media critic Sevanti Ninan said EC’s move “is an extremely important step in terms of disincentivizing the political class”.