Guwahati, Mar 2
The Gauhati High Court on Wednesday stayed the fine and appearance order slapped on Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in a lower court in a case related to alleged violation of model code of conduct during the Lok Sabha poll in the state in 2019.
The Kamrup Metropolitan chief judicial magistrate A K Baruah had on February 25 slapped Rs 2,000 fine on Sarma and his wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, who is the chairman-cum-managing director of a TV news channel and ordered the two to appear before it on March 21.
Sarma had approached the HC on February 28 and filed a petition challenging this order and appealing to quash the complaint filed by the Assam additional chief electoral officer in May 2019.
In the first hearing of the petition on Wednesday, Justice Rumi Kumari Phukan stayed all the proceedings in the case at the CJM court and called for all the records.
“… It appears that the learned trial court has, however, overstepped in the side of the complainant, which are not healthy affairs for a court of law (the orders reflect).
“Furthermore, it appears that in the last order dated 25.02.2022, while the Court accepted the cause of absence of the complainant, who was stated to be busy in election duty, but refused to accept the ground that was given on behalf of the accused petitioner, who was busy with the Hon’ble President of India,” the order said.
The judge said that the accused being the current chief minister was present with the president, who was on a three-day tour to Assam and it was known to all citizens of the state.
“…His absence before the court cannot be viewed with serious complicity and particularly, a petition was also moved on behalf of the petitioner assigning reasons. In that view of the matter, imposition of cost appears to be not on lawful consideration,” the order said.
Stating that “serious aspect of law and other related issues” have been raised in the quashing plea by Sarma, Justice Phukan admitted the petition and asked all the respondents to submit their responses within four weeks.
Sarma has filed the petition against the Election Commission, the chief election commissioner, EC senior principal secretary, the state election department, the chief electoral officer and Vibekananda Phookan, who was the additional chief electoral officer in May 2019.
As Phookan has retired, the HC asked to implead the election department joint secretary Pradip Doley as the seventh respondent.
The case against Sarma was filed by the then additional chief electoral officer in May 2019 against Sarma, who was then a minister holding several portfolios in former chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s government, and the News Live TV Channel, of which his wife is the chairman-cum-managing director, for allegedly violating the model code of conduct in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The CJM in his order on February 11 asked both the accused to appear befor it on February 25, but the duo did not and sought more time. The CJM had accepted their plea and asked them to appear on March 21. It had slapped a fine of Rs 2,000 on them.
Before accepting their joint plea on February 25, the CJM issued a bailable warrant of Rs 1,000 each against Sarma and his wife as they failed to appear and there was no representation on their behalf till 10:55 am.
Their advocate had reached the courtroom at 11 am and submitted two petitions on their behalf requesting the court to defer the appearance and cancel the warrant.
In his order on February 11, the CJM had noted that as per the complaint, the two accused – Sarma and News Live Channel owned by Pride East Entertainments Pvt Ltd and represented by the then chairman-cum-managing director, had prima facie violated the MCC of Lok Sabha election.
The TV channel had telecast a live interview of Sarma at 7.55 PM on April 10, 2019, i.e within 48 hours of the first phase of polls scheduled on April 11.
The election department had filed the case after receiving complaints from the then-president and general secretary of Assam Pradesh Congress Committee on April 10, 2019.