EC disqualifies MP minister for three years, terms paid news ‘menace’

Madhya Pradesh Irrigation Minister Narottam Mishra. The Election Commission has disqualified Mishra and barred him from contesting elections for three years for allegedly being involved in paid news during the 2008 assembly elections. (File Photo)

New Delhi, June 24  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 State assembly elections in 2008.

The Commission, which on Friday also said 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 Mishra for three years, it said: “Such attempts need to be curbed with strong measures and visited with exemplary sanctions and restore the balance in the electoral playing field.

“Therefore, the commission is of the considered view and hold that Mishra should be disqualified under Section 10(A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.”

Accordingly, the Election Commission hereby declares that Mishra stands disqualified, for three years from the date of this order, under section 10(A) read with section 77 and 78 of the Act “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”, the order said.

The order means Mishra will have to skip the 2018 state assembly polls.

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 before Commission after the 2008 election.

Mishra has constantly denied the allegation against him for incurring or authorising the expenditure on publication on the alleged news item.

Section 10(A) empowers Commission to disqualify a candidate if he fails to submit account of his poll expenses in time and in the manner required by the Act and Mishra allegedly did not comply with its provisions.

Holding that such attempt to conceal information on election expenditure should be curbed, the Commission 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 facts of present case.

The Commission held that it was clear from an examination of this matter that Mishra was complicit in the publication of the impugned paid news as news items and has derived benefits from it without acknowledging it.

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