The Bombay High Court has recently said that candidates, who are elected unopposed in local body elections, are also required to furnish accounts of election expenses incurred by them.
The Aurangabad division bench of Justices S.V. Gangapurwala and Sunil P Deshmukh passed this order, while hearing a petition filed by Rohini Balasaheb Lawande.
The case was initially heard by a single judge, which noted a Judgment passed by the Bombay High Court in the case of Dipmala vs Additional Commissioner, Nagpur.
The Single-Judge stated that the Dipmala judgement gave an indication that for a particular post, if there are two or more candidates, it would amount to a contest and candidates incurring expenditure in such a contest are only obliged to tender their accounts.
The single judge also adverted to two orders passed by the State Election Commission (EC) – first, an order dated February 7, 1995 where a candidate was supposed to maintain an abstract of accounts of expenditure; and two, an order dated October 15, 2016 with regard to submission of expenses in election to the Parliament, Legislative assembly and local bodies.
The single-judge further stated that the two orders of the Election Commission were not brought to the notice of the Bombay High Court in Dipmala.
Hence, the single judge referred the question to a larger bench after framing the following question to be considered by the larger Bench.
“Whether a candidate elected unopposed, is required to tender his accounts of election expenditure under Section 14B (1) of the Maharashtra Village Panchayat Act, Section 16 (1- D) of the Maharashtra Municipalities Nagar Panchayats and Townships Act 1965 and section 15B (1) under the Maharashtra Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samities Act, 1961, in view of the order dated 07.02.1995 and the Government Resolution dated 15.10.2016?”
Advocate Jiwan Patil for the petitioners submitted that in the recent past, perceptibly, lot of money is being expended by candidates over elections mal-utilizing value of money to sway voters in their favour. In order to prevent and deter candidates from mal/mis -utilization of money, provisions have been introduced and incorporated in various statutes viz. Section 14B(1) in Maharashtra Village Panchayat Act and the ones referred to in the question framed for reference.
He draws our attention to that, provisions of section (14-B) of the Maharashtra Village Panchayat Act, are similar to the provisions from other enactments in the referral.
Patil submitted that, however, non furnishing of accounts within time, would not in all cases entail disqualifcation. Relevant facts would be required to be necessarily taken into account and mechanical approach has to be eschewed. Discretion invested in the authority has been conferred with a view not to interrupt the election of returned candidates, but with a view to see that there is sanctity to the same. The vested discretion is to be exercised as far as possible to maintain election of a person who has been democratically elected.
Counsel for the State, S. K. Tambe reiterates the submissions as were advanced during hearing of the group of writ Petitions and requests a proper view be taken to prevent the elections from being afected/infected by economic malady.
Statutory provisions are in pari materia in all the enactments, empowering the State election commission to disqualify “a person” for failure to submit election expenses within the timeline and in the manner regulating the same, for want of good or justifable reasons. The provisions are aimed at fair, pure and transparent election process in civilised democratic society, the Court said.
The Court stated that the Election Commission has power of superintendence, has control over afairs concerning elections and is empowered to issue directions. The provision empowers the state election commission to legislate on the issues concerning elections expenses. In the State of Maharashtra, the State election commission after its establishment had for the frst time in 1994, issued mandate requiring candidates to submitted election expenses within a timeline. The same went on developing and improving from time to time.
“Stages of election can be seen, generally begin for candidates, with purchasing nomination form, its submission and its validation by the returning ofcer and/or even with purchase of voters’ list before nomination. There is lot of time gap between submission of nomination, scrutiny and validation. It would not be out of place to consider that as referred to by the learned single judge referring the matter to larger bench, recent trend of candidates has been to declare and publicize their candidature with much fanfare, submitting nomination forms by procession, with bands, road-show, putting cut-outs, advertisements, celebrating the same etc. even before submission, scrutiny and validation of their nomination. Naturally, lot of expenditure is involved in the same. On many occasions, candidates have been indulging into fling multiple nomination forms with a view to see that their candidature is not blocked / debarred / excluded /sidelined or held up on account of defect/defciency in a form and at least one of the nomination forms would make them survive to stand in the fray. With such approach, preparations, candidates in elections on many occasions make substantial arrangements for campaigning ofces, grounds, advertising, payments to workers, securing voters’ lists etc, even before the date of fnalization of nomination which indeed involves expenditure”, the order reads.
“It would not be that expenses for election would be only when there would be a contest in the elections. It, thus, cannot be said in all the cases that, there would be no election expenses in contest free or unopposed elections and candidates getting elected unopposed, would stand exempted from tendering election expenses”, the Court said.