New Delhi, Apr 15 : The Election Commission has barred SP leader Azam Khan and Union Minister Maneka Gandhi from campaigning for 72 hours and 48 hours respectively. This follows complaint against the leaders for hate speeches. Similar punishment was meted to Mayawati and Yogi Adityanath. EC's action followed rap from Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court Monday expressed displeasure over the EC action so far against BSP supremo Mayawati and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for their alleged hate speeches during campaigns and decided to examine the ambit of poll panel's power on the violation of model code of conduct.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi took note of the alleged hate speech of the two prominent leaders of Uttar Pradesh and asked the Election Commission about the action after its submission that it was "toothless".
"Tell us what are you doing... Tell us what actions you have taken," said the bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.
The top court also summoned a representative of the EC at 10.30 AM on Tuesday and decided to examine the contention that the poll panel has limited legal powers to deal with hate speeches of politicians during electioneering.
At one point during the hearing, it even threatened the EC counsel that it will force the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) to appear before it within half-an-hour.
The bench also enquired about the statements made by the Adityanath and Mayawati in their rallies.
"The power of the EC in this behalf is very limited. We can issue notice and seek reply but we cannot de-recognise a party or disqualify a candidate...we can only issue advisories and in case of a repeat offence, register a complaint", the counsel for the poll panel said.
The bench said: "It would like to examine whether the power of the EC was circumscribed to deal with the violations of the MCC by leaders through alleged hate speeches."
EC swung into action after the court's observations and "strongly condemned" the two leaders for their communal remarks and barred them from campaigning. While Adityanath was barred for 72 hours, Mayawati has been barred for 48 hours. The two have also been "censured" by the poll panel.
The apex court was hearing a PIL filed by an NRI Yoga teacher based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), seeking a direction to the EC to take "strict action" against political parties if their spokes-persons make remarks based on caste and religion in the media in the run up to general elections.
At the outset, the bench sought to know the actions taken by the poll panel till now against the political leaders and was miffed when the counsel for EC said that it would file an affidavit in response to the PIL of NRI Harpreet Mansukhani.
"What for, you want to file the counter affidavit (reply). Tell us what action you have taken. Tell us as to how many people have been served with the notices," it asked.
Referring to alleged hate speech of Mayawati in a rally, the bench asked, "Has she replied. What actions you (EC) are empowered to take take in law".
The bench then said the time for responding to the EC's notice by the BSP leader had already expired on April 12 and wanted to know about the subsequent action against her.
The bench has now asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for Mansukhani, to assist it in the hearing tomorrow.
Hegde said that under the Constitution, the poll panel has immense power to tackle violation of MCC by political leaders during electioneering.
The apex court, on April 8, had issued notice to the Centre and the poll panel on the PIL seeking direction to take "strict action" against political parties if their spokespersons make remarks based on castes and religions in the media in the run up to general elections.
Referring to communal and caste-based election speeches and remarks of political leaders, Mansukhani said he has filed the plea to "maintain secular environment in the forthcoming Lok Sabha Election, 2019".
In the plea, he has sought various reliefs including a direction to the poll panel "to take strict actions against the political parties if their spokesperson or representative deliver speeches and make remark in media pertaining to the religion or caste.
"The 'undesirable development' of appeals to religion, race, caste, community or language of politicians would hamper the objective of fundamental rights provided under the Constitution of India, this would affect the public at large".
The plea, filed through lawyer Arup Banerjee, has also sought setting up of a committee under the chairmanship of retired Supreme Court Judge "to have close watch on entire election process and to check the loyalty of election commission".
It has also sought a direction to the poll panel to take strict actions against media houses which hold debates on caste or religious lines.
The plea has sought a report from the poll panel on the measures adopted by it in holding "corruption free elections".
"Our Constitution ensures a Socialist, Secular State and equality, fraternity among its citizens. Our country has a democratic set-up which is by the people, for the people and of the people.
"A new trend of giving tickets to those who spread communal hatred and do caste or religion based politics has grown very rapidly on media and social media platform more than that the situation appears to be more alarming when we find such persons being elected for the State Assembly or Parliament...," the plea said.
News24 Bureau/ PTi