The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Half-truths in last-minute papers

Ranchi, March 31: Details regarding personal assets filed by candidates can be challenged by anyone before the scrutiny is done, sources in the election office said here today.

The objection is to be filed before the returning officer or the chief electoral officer, who is expected to get it verified. If the objections are found to be correct then the returning officer has the authority to reject the nomination, thus disallowing the candidate from contesting, the sources said.

In other words, in the six constituencies for which Wednesday was the last day for filing nomination, information regarding assets could have been challenged till March 31 itself. Since April 1 has been fixed for scrutiny and April 3 as the last day for withdrawal, it would explain why most heavyweight candidates appear to wait till the last day to file their nomination — giving very little time to file objections and even less time to the returning officers to verify the complaints.

However, neither electoral officers nor returning officers were certain whether undervaluation of property and wilful non-disclosure of assets could be grounds for rejecting the nomination.

To add to the confusion, one of the returning officers claimed that all that is possible under the law is for the returning officer to inform the Election Commission, if charges are found to be correct.

Mandatory disclosure of assets and liability by candidates followed a historic Supreme Court ruling which sought to empower the people. It is up to the people and the media, officials said, to react to the disclosures and contest the claims.

Candidates, they agree, could be tempted to come out with only half-truths. In any case property held in benami or in the name of relatives, family members and loyalists are not included in the disclosures.

But BJP candidate from Giridih Ravindra Pandey finds himself in the eye of a storm following the disclosure that he owns over a dozen houses and apartments in different parts of the country and appears to have grossly under-valued the properties.

Pandey, in his affidavit, maintains that he has a house in Lower Burdwan Compound (Ranchi) spread over 4.3 cottahs of land and valued at Rs 5 lakh. Even a casual look at the three-storey house indicates that it occupies more land and local builders estimated the value of the three-storey house at Rs 30 lakh and more.

Local residents, neighbours of Pandey, claimed that the house actually occupies 16 cottahs of land and was bought by Pandey in the early nineties for Rs 17 lakh.

They knew the figure because the house-owner, film producer Sanjay Roy, was in dire need of money and had not sold the house to his own sister who had offered to pay Rs 16 lakh, they recalled.

Chief electoral officer, Arvind Kumar Pandey, claimed that the system was absolutely transparent. Details of assets furnished by candidates, he said, are being displayed on the website Chief income-tax commissioner Jagdish Jha said: “The department is keeping a tab on the disclosures. If needed, we will certainly scrutinise the information provided by the candidates.”

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