The Supreme Court has said the market value of campaign materials fixed by the Election Commission is not “sacrosanct” in a verdict that is likely to make it difficult for successful candidates to counter allegations of over-expenditure during elections.
A bench headed by justice J Chelameswar said that the losing candidate can always question the rates fixed by the poll body on the ground it is undervalued. If challenged, a court can determine the rate of the material used on the basis of the actual market value.
The SC ruling came on a petition filed by Congress MLA from Madhya Pradesh and son of late Union minister Arjun Singh, Ajay Arjun Singh.
“The values fixed by the Election Commission or its functionaries are not conclusive. There is no statutory basis for such an exercise. The valuation made by the Election Commission obviously would be based on the samples supplied by the candidates,” the bench said on Thursday.
The top court said it can never be presumed that the candidates use the same quality of material in the actual process of campaigning.
The petitioner, MLA from Churahat assembly constituency, moved the SC after Madhya Pradesh high court refused to dismiss the election petition filed by defeated BJP candidate Sharadendu Tiwari in the 2013 assembly elections. Singh had won the election by a margin of 19,356 votes.
Tiwari had accused the Congress MLA of spending massive money to illegally influence voters. He alleged that the expenditure incurred was beyond the permissible limit of Rs 16 lakh fixed for each assembly constituency.
In his petition, Tiwari also complained there was total non-disclosure of certain expenditure incurred by Singh for organising a meeting of one of the top functionaries of the political party including party vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Singh denied Tiwari’s contention. He argued the expenditure was based on the determination of monetary market value fixed by the poll panel for each of the materials used by the candidates.
The SC rejected Singh’s contention. It concluded the “quantity and quality of the material used by the appellant during the course of his election campaign and value of such material are pure questions of fact which are required to be established on evidence.”
Singh will now fight the election petition against him on merits and as per the SC order.