In a major decision that could affect the political career of local bodies and medical education minister Anil Joshi, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has sought initiation of criminal proceedings against the minister for having violated certain provisions of the Representation of Peoples Act when he contested the January 2012 assembly elections as a BJP candidate from the Amritsar north constituency.
Having found sufficient evidence against Joshi, the ECI has directed the chief electoral officer (CEO) of Punjab to file a complaint under sections 17, 18 and 31 of the Act against the minister and others for having enrolled as voters at more than one place and also for making false declarations at the time of contesting the elections.
While sections 17 and 18 of the Act specify that no person will be registered as a voter in more than one place, section 31 pertains to a contesting candidate making a false declaration in writing before the election authorities at the time of filing nomination papers that he or she is a registered voter at only one place or in one assembly/parliamentary constituency.
Besides Joshi, the others against whom the CEO has been asked to file the complaint are eight of his relatives, including wife Monika Joshi and brother Rajesh Kumar, who is a member of the municipal committee, Tarn Taran. The others are Pushpa Rani, the mother of the minister, and relatives Vijay Kumar, Punam Joshi, Mamta, Varinder and Jyoti.
In its order dated January 27, the ECI has asked the CEO to "take necessary action accordingly and that all information in this regard should be reported to the commission within 30 days".
The order, a copy of which is with HT, may not affect the minister's relatives but is likely to affect his political future as violations of the Act by an elected representative are a serious offence. Such violations have in the past led to elected representatives losing their assembly or parliamentary seats.
Complaint by two lawyers
The orders signed by Rajeev Kumar, under-secretary with the commission, were issued on a representation submitted to the ECI's office in New Delhi in November 2012 by city-based advocates Sandeep Gorsi and Vaneet Mahajan.
In the representation, the lawyers had shown that Joshi and his wife were listed as voters from Amritsar north and Amritsar east assembly constituencies while his mother was listed as a voter from the two above constituencies as well as from Tarn Taran, the ancestral town of the Joshi clan. All others were listed as voters from Amritsar north and Tarn Taran.
Joshi won as a candidate of the BJP from the Amritsar north constituency in 2007 and then in 2012 while his brother Rajesh Joshi is a member of the Tarn Taran MC. The advocates had demanded action against the minister and his brother for "betraying" the voters by making false declarations at the time of filing the nomination papers for their respective elections.
The commission, after going through all records and the electoral rolls of three different places, concluded that Joshi and the others had violated sections 17 and 18 and 31 of the Act. Joshi was also found to have violated section 31 of the Act as he had made a false declaration while filing his nomination from the Amritsar north constituency in January 2012, saying he was a voter from just one place. Likewise, his brother had also made a false declaration when he contested the Tarn Taran MC elections.
ECI for action against election officials
The Punjab CEO has also been directed to take "disciplinary action against the ERO (Election Returning Officer) of Amritsar and all other officers found responsible for the lapses mentioned therein".
The lapses on the part of the ERO and other officers were listed in an inquiry report which is with the commission. The inquiry into certain 'missing' records and documents related to the enrolment of the minister at more than one place, was conducted by Jalandhar divisional commissioner R Venkataraman on the directions of the ECI.
The inquiry was conducted by the divisional commissioner after the two advocates made a written complaint before the ECI that the CEO and the ERO were helping the minister and were trying to erase all evidence related to electoral rolls of the constituencies.
On the basis of the inquiry report, the ECI in its order observed, "It is quite obvious that the local administration in Punjab is trying to help the minister concerned by withholding information and even by destroying the evidence."
The ECI did not mention names of officials in its order against whom action is to be taken. It will be up to the CEO to identify those who were indicted in the Venkataraman report.
Reacting to the order, Gorsi and Mahajan said here on Tuesday, "We are satisfied and demand Joshi's resignation. If he does not resign, the chief minister should remove him from the cabinet".
The two advocates indicated that they would take legal recourse to unseat Joshi and even debar him from contesting polls. They are also contemplating getting a criminal case registered against Joshi and the election officials who helped him.
Both advocates have been at loggerheads with the minister for long. Last month, a case under various sections of the IPC was registered by the local police against Mahajan. The advocates alleged that the case was registered at the behest of the minister to press them to withdraw their complaint before the ECI. The two lawyers have also registered two separate defamation cases against Joshi.