HC reserves order on Narottam Mishra’s plea to vote in prez poll
New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Thursday reserved its verdict on a plea of disqualified Madhya Pradesh minister Narottam Mishra to vote in the presidential polls on July 17.
“Judgement reserved,” a specially constituted single-judge bench of Justice Indermeet Kaur said after hearing day-long arguments on behalf of Mishra, the Election Commission of India and Congress leader Rajendra Bharti on whose complaint the poll panel had disqualified the BJP leader.
The Supreme Court had on Wednesday transferred the matter to the high court to be decided expeditiously before the July 17 presidential election.
Pursuant to the apex court’s decision, the high court had on Wednesday constituted the special single-judge bench to hear Mishra’s plea challenging the ECI’s June 23 order disqualifying him for three years over paid news charges.
The poll panel’s order had held him guilty of filing wrong accounts of poll expense relating to articles and advertorials in the media during the 2008 assembly polls.
During the day’s arguments, senior advocate Dhruv Mehta, who appeared for Mishra, assailed the ECI decision on the grounds of delay in proceedings and that no evidence was led to show that he had authorised the paid news articles.
However, he admitted that some of the articles published by certain media houses were “appeals to the voters to vote for him”.
This admission was made after the court perused some of the articles and said “some of these appear to be appeals to voters to vote for him. What is your take on this?”
Mehta also claimed that the disqualification order would not affect his (the minister’s) current tenure, after he won the 2013 polls, as the ECI decision came on a complaint with regard to the elections of 2008.
However, Justice Indermeet Kaur said that what she understood from the apex court order was, that Mishra’s plea has to be decided before July 17 as his ability to vote in the presidential polls rests on the outcome.
While transferring the matter to the high court, the apex court had said, “We are of the view, that (right to vote in the presidential election) can only be determined after the challenge raised to the order passed by the Election Commission of India on June 23, 2017, is suitably addressed by the High Court, finally or by an interim order as the High Court may consider appropriate.”
If the disqualification is upheld, he would not be able to vote and, therefore, even as per the apex court order the ECI decision does impact the politician’s current tenure, the high court special bench said.
Mishra’s lawyer disagreed with this observation of the special bench.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Bharti, said the delay by ECI in even issuing a show cause notice was because there was a stay by the MP High Court on the proceedings in the poll panel for two years.
He also argued that while such matters need to be decided expeditiously, there was no limitation on the time taken and therefore, the BJP leader cannot claim delay as a ground for challenging the disqualification.
Mishra’s lawyer had argued that while Bharti had accused him of incurring expenses exceeding the limit imposed during polls, the ECI had said there was “implied authorisation” a point that the complainant had never raised.
Sibal, on the other hand, said that “implied authorisation” means that a person has incurred the expenses, as otherwise there will never be any direct evidence which shows that a politician has authorised paid news.
He also said that Mishra enjoyed the benefits of the delay in ECI proceedings.
Senior advocate Vivek Tankha, also representing Bharti, blamed Mishra for the stay of ECI proceedings which led to the delay, an allegation which the BJP leader’s lawyer denied.
Mishra’s lawyer had argued that the entire proceedings of the poll panel was delayed as he was issued a show cause notice in January 2013 four years after filing of the complaint in 2008 and the final order was passed after passage of another four years.
Mehta further said that the news reports were neither authorised by his client nor his agent.
Mishra had moved the apex court challenging an order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court refusing an urgent hearing to his interim prayer to allow him to vote in the presidential election.
While disqualifying Mishra from contesting elections for three years following a complaint against him, the poll panel had used some strong words against paid news, calling it a “cancerous menace” that is assuming “alarming proportions” in
the electoral landscape.
His election from the Datia Assembly constituency also stands void.
A full bench of the Election Commission, comprising then Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi and Election Commissioners A K Joti (now CEC) and O P Rawat, had in its June order indicted Mishra and unseated him under various sections of the Representation of the People Act (RPA).
Mishra, who won from Datia assembly constituency, is the minister for water resources and public relations and the chief spokesperson of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government.
Bharti, the main complainant in the case, had first sent a complaint to the EC about eight years back in 2009.
The poll panel order had said that all the 42 news items that had appeared in five Hindi dailies were “extremely biased in favour of” Mishra.
It had said that its findings had also strengthened the conclusion that he had “knowingly participated or took advantage of the expenditure on such advertisements” that had appeared as news in the publication.
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