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S.16C Karnataka Municipalities Act | Lodging Accounts Of Electoral Expenditure Ensures Transparency & Accountability Of Candidates: High Court

Mustafa Plumber
21 April 2022 2:45 PM GMT
S.16C Karnataka Municipalities Act | Lodging Accounts Of Electoral Expenditure Ensures Transparency & Accountability Of Candidates: High Court
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The Karnataka High Court has dismissed a petition filed by four persons challenging the order passed by the Karnataka State Election Commission disqualifying them from continuing as the elected members of the Municipality, on failure to lodge a true and correct account of electoral expenditure with the Returning Officer, within prescribed time.A single judge bench of Justice Krishna S...

The Karnataka High Court has dismissed a petition filed by four persons challenging the order passed by the Karnataka State Election Commission disqualifying them from continuing as the elected members of the Municipality, on failure to lodge a true and correct account of electoral expenditure with the Returning Officer, within prescribed time.

A single judge bench of Justice Krishna S Dixit while dismissing the petition filed by K Srinivas and others said,

"The legislature enacted the provisions of section 16C in the 1964 Act mandating the lodging of accounts of electoral expenditure is for the purpose of bolstering the transparency in and purity of the election process in general and accountability of the candidates in particular. This apart, the prescription of lodging of accounts of electoral expenditure with default clause of disqualification is aimed at removing the propensity for corruption and bribery in the election process."

It added, "The rationale of imposing a limit on expenditure incurred or authorised by a candidate in an election is to eliminate, as far as possible, the pernicious influence of 'big money' on the election process".

The petitioners were issued notices dated 27.01.2020, by the State Election Commission, petitioners have sent their reply on 17.06.2020. In their replies they specifically admitted that they have not filed their accounts of election expenditure with the Returning Officer. Following which the Commission on November 15, 2021 issued the disqualification order.

The bench said, "Section 16C of the Karnataka Municipalities Act 1964, corresponds to Section 77(1) & 78 of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, read with Rule 86 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.

The court then opined,

"Electoral corruption in particular has a corrosive effect on the democratic polity. Maintaining the purity of the electoral process, requires a multi-pronged approach, which includes removing the influence of money and criminal elements in politics and introducing strict standards of financial transparency in the functioning of the political parties or candidates."

It added, "Regulating election expenditure is the first step toward combating corruption. It is in this light that the obligation to file accounts of electoral expenditure as enacted by law needs to be scrupulously complied with, failing which its very purpose would be defeated. It is also for the preservation of purity & probity of elections and maintenance of 'public trust'."

Further it said, "Normally, although a mere failure to lodge a correct election accounts does not amount to a corrupt practice, it cannot be gainsaid that failure to lodge accounts of electoral expenditure in general and correct accounts of electoral expenditure in particular sullies the process of elections, giving scope for a strong assumption that unethical & dishonest forces have been at play."

Court rejected the defence of the petitioners

The petitioners had claimed two reasons for not lodging the accounts of electoral expenses in time and with the Returning Officer, which are, they were busy in attending to the problems of the electoral constituencies and they were not aware of the requirement of lodging the accounts of electoral expenditure.

The bench observed, "Ignorance of law is no excuse. This age-old norm obtaining in all civilised jurisdictions applies equally if not more to the elected representatives, as the trustees of public offices."

It added, "To qualify an exemption from this obligation, a strong ground has to be made out. The explanation offered is unreasonable to say the least and, if countenanced would lay a very bad precedent with abundant potential for abuse. It also militates against the very intent of the legislature prescribing such an obligation."

Petitioners claimed violation of Principles of Natural Justice.

The counsel for the petitioners claimed that the law requires an opportunity of hearing whilst making the punitive order of the kind. The same was opposed by the respondents stating that no such plea is taken in the petition.

The bench said, "Not even a whisper is made as to any prejudice having been caused because of the absence of hearing." It added ,"The principles of natural justice cannot be invoked as a mindless priest ritualistically chanting the mantra. Some prejudice because of violation of these principles has to be demonstrated; after all, the principles of natural justice are not immutable axioms."

Accordingly the court dismissed the petition.

Case Title: K Srinivas V The Karnataka State Election Commission

Case No: Writ Petition No.3415 Of 2022

Citation: 2022 Livelaw (Kar) 130

Date Of Order: 18th Day Of April, 2022

Appearance: Senior Advocate M R Rajagopal A/W Advocate Saraswathi M For Petitioners; AAG R Subramanya, A/W Advocate K R Nithyananda, AGA For R1 To R3

Click Here To Read/Download Order

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