In fresh trouble for former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, the Election Commission (EC) on Sunday ruled that he had “failed to lodge his account of election expenses in the manner required by the (Representation of the People) Act and rules” and issued him a showcause notice asking why he should not be disqualified.
The case relates to the “paid news” complaint against Chavan in the 2009 Maharashtra Assembly elections, when he was the incumbent Chief Minister.
The EC has directed Chavan to submit his representation within 20 days. If he fails to offer “good reason or justification for the failure” to file an account of election expenses in the manner required by the Act, he could be “disqualified for a period of three years from the date of the order”.
Chavan was recently elected to the 16th Lok Sabha from Nanded.
The complainants in the case — Dr Madhavrao Kinhalkar and others — alleged that during the 2009 Assembly polls, many news items and articles, marked “advertisement” and “advertorial”, appeared in various newspapers, newspaper supplements, pamphlets and magazines “eulogising” Chavan. They have alleged that these were, in fact, “paid news published for consideration in kind or cash for promoting or procuring the election of the respondent (Chavan)”.
According to the complaint, Chavan failed to submit the expenditure incurred on the publication of these news items in the account of his poll expenses.
In his defence, Chavan claimed that “all the news items, supplements, advertisements etc., in question in the present proceedings, were published by the newspapers gratuitously on their own because of their inclination, leaning and close association… with the Indian National Congress.” He claimed that the publication of such news items was neither authorised by him, nor was “any expenditure incurred or authorised” by him or any of his agents.
Chavan contended that “none of these news items, supplements advertisements etc. made any appeal or solicitation for votes … and were in fact in the nature of highlighting the achievements of the Government of Maharashtra… and the welfare measures and schemes devised and implemented by the state government…”
Speaking to The Indian Express in Pune, Kinhalkar said, “I look at this decision as a victory of democracy… The case was not just about not including the money spent on the advertisements in the poll account. Prior to the elections, huge articles had appeared in three different newspapers praising Chavan that had the same text as the advertisements… There were also sponsored pages. None of this was accounted for in the poll expenses submitted to the district election officer.”
— With ENS, Pune