New Delhi

The Supreme Court has sought responses from the Centre and the Election Commission on a petition seeking a mechanism to check the veracity of assets and criminal antecedents furnished by candidates in affidavits submitted along with their nomination papers.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud issued notices to the EC and Centre on an appeal filed by Ahmedabad-based Khemchand Rajaram Koshti. His counsel Devadatt Kamatargued there was no mechanism to penalise or disqualify candidates who furnished false details in their affidavits to the returning officer.

The SC in 'Association of Democratic Reforms case' in 2002 had made it mandatory for candidates to furnish details of their assets, their criminal antecedents and educational qualification to enable voters to make an informed choice in elections. They were required to file details of their spouse and dependants as well. Kamat said although Section 33A of Representation of People Act, 1951, read with Rule 4A of Conduct of Election Rules, made it mandatory for candidates to file affidavits and give the SC mandated information, it was not effective as the returning officer did not have the power to ask candidates to submit documents to substantiate claims made in the affidavit.

"Despite attempts by the SC to ensure transparency in the process of election by making it mandatory for a candidate to disclose information about criminal offences, liabilities and educational qualification, there is a void in the statutory mechanism to have even a prima facie verification of the contents of the affidavit submitted by candidates," the petitioner said. Koshti's petition was dismissed by the Gujarat HC, which had said that it could not add to what the SC had already laid down in the ADR case, followed by its judgment in 2003 in the PUCL case which had nullified the Centre's bid to give a restricted meaning to the disclosures to be made by a candidate.

Kamat said, "In the absence of a mandate to candidate to furnish documents supporting the disclosure made in affidavit, neither the RO nor the voter is in a position to appreciate whether the contents of the affidavit reflected the truth." The petitioner said the RO must be empowered to seek documents from candidates to substantiate the claims made in the affidavit and if the claims were found false, he should have the authority to reject the nomination paper.

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