New Delhi: The Election Commission has disqualified Madhya Pradesh Water and Irrigation Minister Narottam Mishra for not disclosing the expenditure he had incurred on the paid news that was carried in local media during the 2008 assembly elections. Mishra said that he would move the High Court against the order.
The Commission, which on Friday also ruled that Mishra would remain disqualified from contesting election for three years, said it was concerned about the "menace of paid news" which has been assuming "alarming proportions" in the electoral landscape.
This phenomenon, a manifestation of the "pernicious effect of money in elections", has been growing increasingly vicious and "spreading like cancer", in recent time, it said.
The Commission noted that Mishra had "not only knowingly submitted a false account of expenses, but also attempted to circumvent the legally prescribed limit on expenditure".
Disqualifying him for three years under Section 10(A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 "for failure to lodge his account of election expenses in the manner required by the law and for having no good reason or justification for such failure", it held: "Such attempts need to be curbed with strong measures and visited with exemplary sanctions and restore the balance in the electoral playing field."
Section 10(A) empowers the Commission to disqualify a candidate if he fails to meet this stipulation as regards to his poll expenses.
The order means Mishra will have to skip the 2018 state assembly polls.
Mishra, who has constantly denied the allegations of incurring or authorising the expenditure on publication on the alleged news item, on Saturday said that he will take the cast to High Court as there was no evidence of paid news. He also refused to resign from his post.
"The case is of 2008. After that, I won and got the people's mandate. As far as my present responsibilities are concerned, the Commission has not said anything about it," he told reporters in Bhopal.
The complaint was filed in 2009 by Congress MLA Rajendra Bharti, who contested against Mishra from Datia constituency, alleging that the minister had not included expenses incurred by him on "paid news" while filing his expenditure statement after the election.
The Commission, holding that such attempt to conceal information on election expenditure should be curbed, in its order said: "It is a grave electoral malpractice which circumvents expenditure limits, disturbs the level playing field and militates against the voters' right to accurate information to enable him to make informed choice.
"The paid news is of such a character that it would either deter or tend to deter voters from supporting that candidate whom they would have supported from free exercise of their electoral right but for their being affected or attempted to be affected by the maker or publisher of the paid news."
It added that the public, in general, lends more credence to news than advertisements of parties and candidates and publication of such advertisements in the garb of news by way of paid news amounts to "deceiving the electorate".
Noting that while it has attempted to address this "menace" by constituting mechanisms at the state and district level to investigate and report instances, the desired objective does not seem to have been fully achieved as is evident from the present case.
The Commission held that it was clear from an examination of the matter that Mishra was complicit in publication of the impugned paid news as news items and has derived benefits from it without acknowledging it.