HindustanTimes Sun,21 Sep 2014

Even LS poll winners can be disqualified over paid news

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, May 18, 2014
First Published: 21:34 IST(18/5/2014) | Last Updated: 09:06 IST(19/5/2014)

Winners in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections will face disqualification if they fail to declare paid news in their poll expenditure reports.

This will be the first time that the Election Commission (EC) takes action against Lok Sabha members for paid news.

The commission has confirmed paid news in 790 of the about 3,000 cases reported from across India, and official sources say it include names of some prominent winners.

Names of a few ministers in the UPA government, some BJP leaders and regional players are in the list, said EC sources.

An official said giving out names would be slightly premature as reports from the district election officers were being examined.

The district officers submit reports on the basis of declaration made by the candidates in their election expenditure accounts.

If a candidate fails to mention the money paid to get news published or broadcast in the expenditure report, the election officer terms it as a false declaration.

"That ground is enough to issue a notice for disqualification against a winner," said an EC official, adding the poll body can take action only against the winning candidates.

On May 5, the Supreme Court had dismissed a petition by former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan challenging the EC's authority to investigate complaints against paid news.

The court had ruled that the commission was authorised to disqualify a person on account of lodging a false report of election expenditure.

The poll watchdog, however, cannot direct action against a candidate for paid news, primarily because it is not defined as an electoral officer in the Representation of the People Act.

Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath termed it as a big handicap in the conduct of polls this time as the "menace" of paid news was on the rise.

"We have asked the government to amend the law and make paid news an electoral offence. It will help us book the candidates as soon as the offence is committed," said Sampath.

Once the law is amended, a candidate would be booked for paid news under the Representation of the People Act.

The EC enforced measures against paid news for the first time in the Bihar assembly elections in 2010. The commission had served notices in 121 suspected cases, of which 15 were finally decided as cases of paid news.

Since then, the poll body has identified cases of paid news in all states – except Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura.



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