Legal hurdle crops up to Pratibha Patil election as President


New Delhi : The Supreme Court Monday decided to hear Tuesday a petition seeking cancellation of the United Progressive Alliance government's presidential candidate Pratibha Patil's nomination paper for the election on grounds of her allegedly being in debt to the public exchequer.

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The major legal hurdle against Patil's near-sure election as president of the country cropped up after advocate Manohar Lal Sharma Monday mentioned before a vacation bench of Justice Tarun Chatterjee and Justice P.K. Balasubramanyan that he has filed in the court's registry a petition seeking cancellation of Patil's nomination paper.

Sharma told the bench that his petition raised the significant legal and constitutional question whether a person is eligible to be elected as president of the country despite being an "undischarged insolvent", having not been able to clear his debt to the public exchequer and others.

After hearing Sharma's preliminary contentions, the bench decided to take up the petition for elaborate hearing Tuesday.

Sharma in his petition alleged that the UPA government presidential nominee, who also enjoys the support of the Left parties and Bahujan Samaj Party, was an "undischarged insolvent" and owed a debt to the tune of Rs 177 million to the public exchequer.

Raising the crucial legal issue in his petition, Sharma said that as per the constitutional provisions, a person is not qualified to be elected as country's president unless he or she is qualified to be elected as a member of Parliament.

And as per another constitutional provision, an undischarged insolvent, owing debt to public exchequer is not qualified to be elected as a parliamentarian, Sharma added in his petition.

The petition said that Patil owed the astronomical debt of Rs 177 million to the exchequer as the founder president and chairperson of the Sant Muktai Co-operative Sugar Factory of Jalgaon in Maharashtra, set up in 1973.

The factory, which essentially happens to be Patil's family business entity, was granted the loan by Mumbai District Co-Operative Bank under Patil's guarantee as the company's president. The factory is still run by her brother, said Sharma.

Two years before she quit the chairpersonship of the factory in 1996, it owed a debt of Rs 177 million and the Mumbai District Co-operative bank had issued it notices in 1994 for recovery of the loan. The loan has not been paid till date.

Sharma said that a month back, the bank declared Patil's sugar factory as defaulter and ordered it to be sealed as repeated notices by the bank to her, issued on her address as the Rajasthan governor till recently, did not get any response.

The petitioner pointed out to the court that the UPA government's presidential nominee did not disclose all these crucial details in her nomination paper to the election commission.

He sought the court's direction to the poll panel to cancel her nomination papers for not disclosing all these details.