Paid news pandemic undermines democracy


May 10, 2013

P. Sainath, The Hindu

Top civil society bodies are challenging the government’s ‘counter-affidavit’ in the Paid News case which seeks to gut the Election Commission’s powers

In a major twist to the Ashok Chavan vs. Madhav Kinhalkar legal battle (more notorious as the “Paid News” scandal), leading civil society organisations and eminent individuals have approached the Supreme Court to implead themselves into the case.

Their intervention application, moved by advocate Prashant Bhushan, minces no words on their reasons for doing so. They are disturbed by “the stranglehold of money power on our electoral politics.” And by a recent move of the Union Law Ministry which could destroy the Election Commission of India’s power to disqualify candidates filing incorrect or false accounts.

The applicants for intervention hope to defeat “the nefarious design” of the Union government which seeks to “undo all the good work done by the Election Commission of India.” And which further seeks, to “unsettle the law already settled” by the Supreme Court of India. They wish to ensure that the ECI “retains the plenitude of its power and authority to safeguard the purity and integrity of the electoral process.” Which includes holding candidates to account on poll expenses.

This action follows the Union Law Ministry filing a counter-affidavit on behalf of the Government in the Ashok Chavan case. That affidavit, first reported by The Hindu on March 20, asserts that “the power of the Election Commission to disqualify a person arises only in the event of failure to lodge an account of expenses and not for any other reason, including the correctness or otherwise of such accounts.” Simply put: the government claims the ECI has no right to disqualify a candidate even if his accounts are found to be improper or fraudulent. If accepted, this would virtually gut the powers of that Constitutional body. (However, the Court is yet to give any ruling on the matter.)

Those seeking to intervene include Common Cause, a public interest body. Its legal activism on electoral matters had a role in the Supreme Court’s ordering that political parties had to file regular returns of income or invite possible penal action. Also in the line-up is the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a group at the forefront of many battles for electoral and political reforms. Vital among those, a public interest litigation (PIL) of ADR in 1999, which later saw the Supreme Court order candidates to disclose their criminal, financial and educational background prior to the polls.

That is, by filing an affidavit with the ECI. Common Cause and ADR are joined by five other civil society bodies in this application.

The line-up of distinguished individuals includes veteran journalist and editor B.G. Verghese, former Chief Election Commissioners of India (CEC) N. Gopalaswami and J.M. Lyngdoh, and former adviser to the ECI, K.J. Rao.

The immediate beneficiary of the UPA government’s attack on the ECI’s powers is the disgraced ex-chief Minister of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan. As former Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami has pointed out: “The government has joined Mr. Chavan in challenging the Election Commission’s power to disqualify a candidate under Section 10A of the Act for his failure to submit a correct and true rendering of his election expenditure” (The Hindu, April 17, 2013). The former CEC clearly sums up the impulse for civil society action: “The case before the Supreme Court is no longer one of Dr. Kinhalkar and others vs Ashok Chavan. It concerns every individual and institution that is uneasy about and opposed to the sway of money power in elections.” — See “Doublespeak on electoral reforms, April 17, 2013, The Hinduthne.ws/gopalaswami

Mr. Chavan not only lost his post in the fallout of the Adarsh scam, but also earned notoriety in the “Paid News scandal,” a story broken by The Hindu(See: “Is the ‘Era of Ashok’ a new era for ‘news’”, thne.ws/era-of-ashok, November 29, 2009).

Destructive

The applicants for intervention in the case note there is “a growing concern that the pandemic of Paid News is eating into the vitals of our democratic polity by compromising the purity of the elections and destroying the credibility of the print/electronic media.” They cite the case of Umlesh Yadav, MLA from Uttar Pradesh, who was disqualified by the ECI for three years. Ms Yadav had failed “to account for an expenditure of Rs. 21,250 on an advertisement that had appeared in the disguise of a news item in the Dainik Jagran,” of April 17, 2007.

They note that “Umlesh Yadav pales into insignificance in comparison to the media blitzkrieg” launched in support of Ashok Chavan’s 2009 Assembly election campaign. And that the Government of India which had ostensibly taken a strong public position on Paid News and praised the ECI’s efforts to curb it, “has filed a counter affidavit which reveals its true colours.”

The Election Commission is also likely to file an affidavit opposing the government’s pro-Chavan counter-affidavit.

psainath@mtnl.net.in

 

When High Court Judges usurp land meant for the homeless, where do the homeless seek justice?


Faiza Khan, Khar East Andolan

Posted on May 6, 2012

When you ask about the court cases in Golibar now, the residents will wrly reply with the famous Hindi film dailogue. “Tareek pe tareek! Tareek pe tareek! “. The hearing on this Monday, the 7th of May, will be 20 months since the Golibar criminal case has been in the Mumbai High Court. In 2009, builder Shivalik Ventures had faked signatures of residents of Ganesh Krupa Society (GKS) in Golibar to claim the 70% consent it needed to redevelop the Golibar slum. On that list of signatories was Sulochana Pawar who had died four years before she allegedly gave her consent. Going by the rules of the SRA, this should have, at the very least, led to the ouster of Shivalik Ventures from this redevelopment project.

Instead, the then Slum Rehabilitation Authority(SRA) chief, Mr. S. Zende (remember this name, it’ll come up again later!) asks the residents of GKS to settle for a compromise. The police had been even more nonchalant and refused to investigate the case until the Court directed them to do so. Once on it, they were so baffled by this seemingly obvious case of fraud that for 20 months, they’ve been seeking extension after extension to complete their investigation. The Court has been very obliging. Meanwhile MHADA’s demolition squads, with police protection continue to break people’s homes.

So the government is clearly not on their side, specially after it backtracked on the GRs last year. The police never was. Their only hope of any justice was in the Courts. Until the Nyay Sagar scam came to light.

Akankhsha tai and other women from Ganesh Krupa are huddled around a copy of Janta ka Aaina, a community newspaper. They burst into cackling laughter. “Yeh toh apna Chandrachud hai!“(This is our Chandrachud!). Apna Chandrachud is Justice Chandrachud of the Mumbai High Court who has been hearing the matter of the Golibar GR case in the High Court. Now he’s on the frontpage, accused in a major land scam, along with Justice Khanvilkar who is hearing the Golibar criminal case (of the forged signatures). There are 13 other Judges and ex-Judges accused.
Nyay Sagar and Siddhant are two multi-storeyed buildings built on a plot of government land that was reserved for the homeless. The judges of the High Court led by then Justice Rebello (now Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court) formed Nyay Sagar Co-operative Housing Society in 2001 and in collusion with Vilasrao Deshmukh  de-reserved all but 10% of this land and appropriated it for themselves. This change in the Development Plan of this plot, Survey No 341 (Part) CTS No 629 from being reserved for the homless to Residential was facilitated by some very senior bureaucrats, including Mr. Zende (the SRA chief who asked residents of GKS to settle for a compromise). What is shocking though is that the land was handed over to Nyay Sagar CHS much before it was de-reserved.

View Larger Map

Even the de-reserving was a sham. Once it is decided that the reservation of a piece of land is to be changed, there is a notification which is open to the public for 30 days in case they have objections. This notification was made public on 16.6.2004 but just six days later, on 22.6.2004 ,the status of the land was modified. The Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan has filed a complaint with the Anti Corruption Bureau asking them to file an FIR.

Akanksha tai laughs when she reads the buildings are called Nyay Sagar (meaning Ocean of Justice) and Siddhanth (Principles). But then she asks soberly, “Now where are we to seek justice?”

THE WALL OF SHAME

THE ACCUSED IN THE CASE
1. Shri Vilas Rao Deshmukh, the then Chief Minister,
2. Shri Sangeetrao, the then Collector Mumbai Suburb,
3. Shri SS Zende, the then later Collector Mumbai Suburb,
4. Shri RC Joshi, Principal Secretary, Department of Revenue,
5. Shri Ramanand Tiwari, the then P. Secretary UDD,
6. Other Unknown Govt. Official/s.
7. Justice V C Daga,
8. Justice A M Khanwilkar,
9. Justice B R Gavai,
10. Justice S M Ghodeshwar,
11. Justice S Radhakrishnan,
12. Justice S A Bobde,
13. Justice P V Kakade,
14. Justice R Lodha,
15. Justice G D Patil,
16. Justice F I Rebello,
17. Justice D K Deshmukh,
18. Justice D B Bhosale,
19. Justice D G Karnik,
20. Justice J P Devdhar,
21. Justice DY Chandrachud


A letter from Justice Rebello to ex-CM Vilasrao Deshmukh misusing his official letterhead for a non-official matter
More documents will be made public soon.

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