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

The Karnataka High Court dismissed a petition filed by four people challenging the Karnataka State Election Commission’s order disqualifying them from continuing as elected members of the Municipality for failing to lodge a true and correct account of electoral expenditure with the Returning Officer within the prescribed time frame. 

A single judge bench of Honourable Justice Krishna S Dixit while dismissing the petition filed by K Srinivas and others in the case of K Srinivas vs Karnataka State Election Commission (Writ Petition No.3415 of 2022) said, “The provisions of Section 16C of the 1964 Act mandating the filing of accounts of electoral expenditure were enacted by the legislature to improve the transparency and purity of the election process in general, and the accountability of the candidates in particular. Aside from that, the requirement of filing accounts of electoral expenditure with a default clause of disqualification is intended to reduce the proclivity for corruption and bribery in the election process.” 

“The rationale for imposing a limit on expenditure incurred or authorized by a candidate in an election is to eliminate, as far as possible, the pernicious influence of ‘big money’ on the election process,” the statement continued. 

Facts of the case are that the State Election Commission issued notices to the petitioners on January 27, 2020, and the petitioners responded on June 17, 2020. They specifically admitted in their responses that they had not filed their election expenditure accounts with the Returning Officer. Following that, on November 15, 2021, the Commission issued the disqualification order. 

“Section 16C of the Karnataka Municipalities Act 1964 corresponds to Sections 77(1) and 78 of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, read with Rule 86 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961,” the bench explained. 

The court then expressed its opinion, “Electoral corruption, in particular, is damaging to the democratic polity. Maintaining the purity of the electoral process necessitates a multifaceted approach that includes removing the influence of money and criminal elements in politics as well as instituting strict financial transparency standards in the functioning of political parties or candidates.” 

It continued, “The first step toward combating corruption is to regulate election expenditure. In this light, the legal requirement to file accounts of electoral expenditure must be strictly followed, or the purpose of the requirement will be defeated. It is also for the sake of election purity and probity, as well as the preservation of “public trust.”” 

“Normally, although failure to lodge correct election accounts does not constitute a corrupt practice, it cannot be denied 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 work,” it continued. 

Court rejected the defence of the petitioners 

The petitioners claimed two reasons for failing to lodge the accounts of electoral expenditure on time and with the Returning Officer: they were too busy attending to the problems of the electoral constituencies, and they were unaware of the requirement to lodge the accounts of electoral expenditure. 

The bench noted, “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. This age-old norm, which exists in all civilised jurisdictions, applies equally, if not more, to elected representatives as trustees of public offices.” 

It continued, “A strong ground must be established to qualify for an exemption from this obligation. The explanation provided is, to say the least, unreasonable and, if accepted, would set a very bad precedent with plenty of room for abuse. It also goes against the legislature’s intent in enforcing such a requirement.” 

Petitioners claimed violation of Principles of Natural Justice. 

The petitioners’ counsel claimed that the law requires an opportunity for hearing before making such a punitive order. The respondents objected, claiming that no such plea is made in the petition. 

“Not even a whisper is made as to any prejudice having been caused by the absence of hearing,” the bench said. It went on to say, “Natural justice principles cannot be invoked by a mindless priest ritualistically chanting the mantra. Some prejudice must be demonstrated as a result of a violation of these principles; after all, the principles of natural justice are not unchangeable axioms.” As a result, the petition was dismissed by the court. 

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