Poll panel can book Maharashtra ex-CM Chavan for 'paid news': SC

In what could be a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court today said the Election Commission is empowered to inquire into allegations of funding 'paid news' against former Maharashtra Chief Minister and leading Congress party member Ashok Chavan.

A bench of Justices Surinder Singh Nijjar and Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla dismissed a plea by Chavan, saying that if a candidate fails to reflect expenses for 'paid news' in the election returns, the EC can enquire into the matter and decide whether a candidate can be disqualified for misrepresenting how much money was spent on his or her campaign in the case of a sitting member.

Chavan had challenged a Delhi High Court order to the same effect.

The SC judges have asked the EC to determine within 45 days whether Chavan fudged his accounts for the 2009 state election, which he won.

Chavan, 55, is standing from the Nanded Parliamentary seat in Maharashtra in the ongoing general elections. If he wins but is found guilty of the charges, he will be disqualified immediately and will be banned from contesting for three years.

The case throws another sorry sidelight on the issue of 'paid news' which has surfaced over the last few years, as the Indian media – which prides itself on being a pillar of democracy – increasingly sells out by prizing revenue over genuine editorial content.

The apex court asked the EC to will hold day-to-day hearings and decide the complaint in 45 days.