Observing that it is common knowledge that contesting an election is an expensive proposition and the clandestine funding of elections is seen by many experts as the fundamental cause for the industry of corruption that is perceived to prevail in the country, the Madras high court has sought the Election Commission of India (ECI) to devise a procedure for dealing with complaints relating to false information filed by candidates in their nomination papers.
Holding that a greater judicial notice may be necessary for electoral reforms and cleansing the system to rid it of the perceived largescale involvement of black money, the first bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said “Though limits as to spending may be fixed by the ECI, such limits may not be realistic and it is the bounden duty of the constitutional watchdog to ensure that if limits are prescribed, they are adhered to; or realistic limits are set, and spending by candidates is confined to such limits, with a close scrutiny of the accounts being undertaken.” However, lauding the ECI’s decision on June 16, 2020, to robustly address this challenge to further ensure free, fair and ethical elections in the country, the bench led by Chief Justice Banerjee said “It is necessary that the ECI devises a procedure for dealing with complaints of the present kind. Ideally, a notice should be issued to the relevant candidate and his explanation sought and the matter closed by a reasoned order if the explanation is found suitable or satisfactory.” “If, however, the explanation is found unsatisfactory, the ECI should pursue the matter with full rigour, irrespective of the political allegiance of the relevant candidate,” the bench added.
The bench also recorded the press note issued by the ECI which referred to the leading Supreme Court judgments instructing that the voter must have relevant information and that false or incomplete information undermines the rights of voters to be fully informed of their political representatives.
It may be noted that the ECI had initially informed the court citing a 1966 circular that it would not institute criminal action in matters relating to false declarations and it would be open to the person who perceived any wrong to have been committed to pursue the matter in accordance with law.
However, with the bench pointing out that it seems completely inappropriate to the Court that the ECI exclusively tasked with the job of overseeing Parliamentary and Assembly elections, would turn a blind eye to allegations of false declarations or false affidavits filed before it by a candidate contesting such an election, quickly changed its stands citing the circular issued by it in 2020 that it would "take cognizance of complaints, and refer such matters to the relevant investigating authorities on a case-to-case basis.
At a Parliamentary or Assembly election, every candidate at every constituency has to file an affidavit in Form 26 along with the nomination papers. Such affidavit, requires the candidate to disclose information pertaining to the candidate's criminal antecedents; assets and liabilities; and, educational qualifications.
The provision also mandates that candidate furnishing false information knowing or having reason to believe the same to be false and candidates concealing any information otherwise required to be furnished may be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.