The Election Commission (EC) may not be able to take action against Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh and his member of Parliament (MP) wife Pratibha Singh for providing any wrong information while filing nomination papers, as claimed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Anurag Thakur, BJP MP from Hamirpur and son of former Himachal CM Prem Kumar Dhumal, had filed a complaint with the commission, accusing Virbhadra and Pratibha of concealing information about their cash assets in the nomination papers filed to contest polls. The couple had, however, denied the allegation and the Congress has also backed them.
Sources in the EC say it would be difficult for the commission to probe the allegations as its powers to probe allegations of concealing facts while filing nomination papers has been curtailed by the court.
"We have asked the government to provide clarity in the Representation of People's Act on powers of the Election Commission to disqualify a candidate for providing wrong information to the commission," a senior EC officer said.
The commission wanted that it should have the power to disqualify a candidate for giving false information in the affidavit on assets and criminal record filed with the nomination papers. Thakur had accused Virbhadra of not providing information, with his nomination papers, on seeking loan from a private company that had a contract to set up a hydroelectric power plant in Himachal.
The EC has also sought the power to disqualify a candidate providing false information in the mandatory election expenditure report to be filed with the commission. As of now, the commission can disqualify a candidate only if he or she fails to file the expenditure report within a stipulated timeframe.
The commission has received a complaint against Pratibha of spending more than Rs. 40 lakh during the Lok Sabha polls from Mandi constituency, which she won. The EC had found that the expenditure report submitted by her was at variance with the report of the expenditure observer appointed by the commission.
The EC, despite having two varying reports, has not been able to issue an explanatory notice to Pratibha, as it found that it does not have powers to question an elected representative on perceived wrong information. "The issue, as per the verdict of courts, can be settled only in a court of law in the form of an election petition," an official said.
Former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan had questioned the EC's power to question an elected representative on the expenditure report. The EC had initiated hearing against Chavan on allegations of paid news.
In the Supreme Court, the law ministry backed Chavan's contention, saying that the EC could disqualify a candidate only if they fail to file an expenditure report. "Giving power to the EC (to disqualify for false information) will disturb the level playing field," the law ministry had said in its affidavit to the apex court.
As the union government is not willing to give this power to the EC, the latter will not be able to initiate any inquiry against Virbhadra and his wife.