In blatant violation of the Election Commission of India's instructions, returning officer (RO) Swatantar Kumar Airi had allowed an Akali leader to contest the Jalandhar municipal corporation elections despite the fact that the SAD nominee had been convicted and sentenced to three-year rigorous imprisonment on a complaint lodged by a senior IAS officer currently posted in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).
Kamaljeet Singh Bhatia, senior deputy mayor in the previous MC house, recently got elected as a councillor and that too unopposed, from ward number 45. The RO had accepted his nomination papers during the scrutiny of nominations on May 29. The other two candidates, Bhatia's wife Jaspal Kaur Bhatia and Congress nominee Gulshan Sarangal, withdrew their papers in Bhatia's favour.
Interestingly, the state election commission and the RO failed to act on the complaint lodged by Surinder Sharma, a ward no. 45 resident who cited various Supreme Court rulings and EC orders to demand the rejection of Bhatia's nomination.
On December 29, 2000, the then MC joint commissioner, Krishan Kumar, had lodged an FIR against Bhatia after he tried to attack him while he was supervising the demolition of encroachments on the 120-ft road, including those by Lucky Palace. The IAS officer alleged that Bhatia caught hold of him from the shirt and threatened to cause damage to his family.
After nearly nine years of trial, the court ruled that since the complainant was an IAS officer and the accused dared to use criminal force against him, no leniency would be shown and the benefit of probation could not be given to Bhatia.
Bhatia was sentenced to two-year rigorous imprisonment under section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of duty), three-month rigorous imprisonment under section 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions) and one-year rigorous imprisonment under section 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC.
Justifying his decision to accept Bhatia's papers, Airi, who is also the chief agriculture officer, said Bhatia was elected unopposed since no other candidate was in the fray. "Bhatia, in his affidavit, had maintained that his conviction was stayed by the high court," said Airi, without clarifying why he violated the EC instructions in this regard.
The EC, in its August 28, 1997 order sent to the chief electoral officers of all states, had said: "In order to attract disqualification, the execution of the order of conviction and sentence of imprisonment or any part thereof is not required. What is necessary is the actual conviction and sentence imposed by the court for not less than two years, which order remains in operation despite stop put to execution of the order of sentence during pendency of appeal by releasing the convicted person on bail and suspending the sentence awarded to him."
Bhatia said he was eligible to contest the polls since the Municipal Corporation Act and the Representation of Peoples Act allowed him to do so in wake of pendency of his appeal against conviction. Interestingly, he admitted that his conviction was not stayed by the court.Sources said the RO gave in to the pressure from senior Akali leaders. The issue of his 'disqualification' was virtually wrapped under his 'unopposed' victory engineered by the Akali leadership, they said.