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Sanjay Rawat
Interview
‘Ban Cash Spending And Anonymous Donors’
The CEC is candid in admitting that more stringent electoral laws are required to fight the menace of money power
COMMENTS PRINT
elections: poll expenses
The state elections rolled out smoothly, but it’s money power which ruled on the ground
Uttam Sengupta, Debarshi Dasgupta
elections: poll expenses
Corporates don’t really want to disclose donation details
Arindam Mukherjee
opinion
Time to end vote-buying, time to give legislators more say in govt
Narendar Pani

The elections in five states went off smoo­thly but the Election Commission of India is still not fully satisfied, feeling hamstrung in countering the use of money power. In an interview to Outlook, Chief Election Comm­issioner V.S. Sampath is candid in admitting that more stringent electoral laws are required to fight the menace.

How have the elections in five States held in November-December 2013 been different from the elections in the same States held in 2008?

The Commission is constantly making efforts to make elections more free and fair, peaceful, smooth and orderly, as will be evident from the following measures taken by the Commission during the current round of election in five states. The highest ever turnout of voters in the four states, where poll has already been taken, is in itself corroboration of the above fact.

  • Great stress was laid on making the electoral rolls as error-free as possible. Under the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP Plan) intervention made in those areas.
  • First Level Checking of EVM was done by the manufacturers in the presence of representatives of the political parties.
  • Detailed communication plan was in place to set up connectivity among the poll related officials. Shadow areas were identified. Alternative arrangements for action plan like procurement of Handsets, Static Sets, Mobile Sets, Satellite Phones etc. were drawn up.
  • Exercise for identification of sensitive and hyper-sensitive constituencies from law and order point of view (Vulnerability Mapping) was done.
  • Webcasting from polling stations on poll day was done in identified polling stations.
  • The Commission ordered distribution of official Voter’s Slip ahead of polling day through the district administration.
  • Call Centre Toll Free No. 1950 is functional for grievance redressal. Control Rooms have been set up to receive complaints.
  • PGR Portal has been set up.
  • Polling Station locations have been levelled on Google Maps.
  • Training of election related officials including those involved in expenditure and paid news monitoring, and Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) were organized.
  • Apart from deploying senior IAS officers as General Observers, the Commission also deployed Expenditure Observer from IRS and IC&ES for monitoring election expenditure in a more effective manner. Awareness Observers were deployed to monitor voter awareness activity in the states.
  • The Commission deployed micro-observers in polling stations under the micro-management strategies by the Commission to ensure free and fair elections, the monitoring of poll day events at the polling stations, particularly in sensitive areas. Randomization of micro-observers were done.
  • Scientific survey of Voters behaviour and targeted interventions were undertaken.
  • Collaboration with NGOs, Educational Institutions and Media to increase voters’ registration, updation of electoral rolls, voter ID card distribution and voter turnout.

Chhattisgarh is affected by extremism (Naxal) which poses special challenges to the conduct of free and fair elections and also to the security of voters, candidates, polling teams and polling material. The Chief Electoral Officer was asked to prepare a detailed plan for this area in consultation with state Government, Police and field officers. Use of technology such as GPS etc. was also adopted.

Some Figures At A Glance

Sl. No.

Item

Chhattisgarh

Madhya Pradesh
Mizoram
Delhi
Rajasthan
1 Population (in million) 25.54 75.30 1.09 17.40 68.62
2 Electors (w.r.t.1/1/2013) (in million) 16.74 46.10 0.68 11.23 39.76
3 No. of Assembly Constituencies 90 230 40 70 200
4 Polling Stations 21418 52071 1126 11763 45334
5 Elector Population (EP) Ratio 62.73 61.22 62.02 65.30 55.55
6 Gender Ratio 963 896 1036 802 891
7 PER % 98.81 99.77 100 97.85 99.05
8 EPIC % 96.81 99.79 100 98.5 99.31

Has the model code of conduct lost its teeth? Violations seem rampant while few candidates seem to suffer or get disqualified in the process. How many candidates have been disqualified so far? Has censuring candidates acted as a deterrent?

At the outset it may be stated that model code of conduct is not a law, although some of its provisions may find echo in various laws. There is no provision in the model code to disqualify a person for violating the model code. Disqualification is possible only under law in specific and special cases and that also by following the process of law to be exercised by prescribed authorities. (The only law which empowers the Commission to disqualify a person is under Section 10A of the Representation of the People Act 1951, where the Commission can disqualify a contested candidate in an election for not filing the account of his election expenses and also for not filing the account in the manner prescribed by law, but only after the election is over).  

 
 
"We are seriously concerned with the tone and language used by some of the political parties in this election.”
 
 
Censuring a candidate or leader of a political party has its own effect. Censuring by a constitutional authority like Election Commission will definitely affect the prestige and honour/standing of a person in the eye of the public and to that extent it has acted as an effective deterrent.

Further, the Model Code has to be seen not as a punitive instrument but mainly as a preventive instrument. The Commission has been able to prevent a large number of situations of misuse of power and authority by the persons in power, which otherwise would have resulted in disturbing the level playing field among the candidates and political parties, by taking appropriate and timely action at such situations. To that extent also the model code has been very effective.

Cash, caste and communal sentiment still seem to be driving election campaigns by political parties, is the EC helpless in dealing with this situation?

The Commission has taken several steps to prevent violation of law in the various stages of electioneering. Regarding caste and communal sentiments, the Commission can only ensure that there is no appeal for votes on caste/communal basis. However, if caste or communal feelings influence the electors, the EC can not be blamed for that. EC has been trying its best to ensure free and fair elections, by making use of all avenues available to it under the law and under the model code.

Bribing of voters, promising sops and influencing voters by distributing liquor, cash and even saris etc. are reported from time to time. What has been the Commission’s experience so far?

Bribing of electors by distributing liquor, cash, sarees etc. is a major challenge during elections. The Commission has taken tough measures in this regard. The measures inter alia include the following: 

(i) The Commission has created a separate Election Expenditure Monitoring Division headed by a senior officer of IRS. 

(ii) The Commission has put in place several mechanisms such as appointment of Election Expenditure Observers, Flying Squads and Static Surveillance Teams in all constituencies during election process, with a view to keeping vigil over movement of any items of bribe. While the Madras High Court appreciated and uphold these measures, the Gujarat High Court had reservations holding these to intrusion on personal privacy of individuals. The Supreme Court only partially restored those measures.

(iii) The Commission has asked the candidates to open a separate bank account and incur all expenditure through cheques from the said bank account. The Commission also appeals to the parties to advise its functionaries not to carry cash exceeding Rs.50,000/- to the constituencies during election process.

(iv) The Commission strictly monitors the production, distribution and storage of liquor through Excise Department on day-to-day basis in the poll going states during election process. 

(v) Video Teams cover all major electoral events to keep an eye on election expenses on public meetings/rallies etc. 

(vi) The Commission monitors all advertisements or paid news through print and electronic media through the Media Monitoring Committees set up at district level.

(vii) The Commission has associated the Investigation Directorate of Income Tax Department in the state to keep vigil over movement of large sums of cash during election process.

(viii) The Commission has also taken up several measures to campaign for ethical voting through print and electronic media and also by involving the students of schools and colleges, resident forums, citizen organisations.

Have affidavits filed by candidates on their property before every election served any purpose?

The filing of affidavits by candidates declaring their assets and liabilities and educational qualifications at the time of filing nomination is based on two judgments of the Supreme Court in 2002-2003. The purpose of obtaining affidavits is to enable the electors to know the background of the candidates so that they can make an informed choice of their representatives. The affidavits are put in public domain through all mass media and also on the website of the Commission for information of public. The fact that prominent civil society organisations like Association Democracy Reform (ADR), FAME (Foundation for Advanced Management of Elections) analyse the profile of the candidates and publish reports on them show that the declarations by candidates are being followed and scrutinised by the general public with seriousness and enthusiasm. In case of inaccuracy in particular in the affidavit, the candidates are liable for prosecution forgiving wrong information on oath.

Cost of contesting elections, say candidates, is spiralling upwards in every election, giving the impression that the Election Commission’s attempts to check money power have not really worked. Would you agree?

It is not correct to say that the Commission’s attempts to check money power have not really worked. In fact, seizure of cash during the last elections is an indication that the Commission’s attempt to curb role of money power has not been unsuccessful. The total cash of Rs 53.09 crores has been seized from 5 states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Mizoram and Delhi. Besides, the total amount of seizure of cash during elections in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. was Rs. 101.16 crores. The seized amount has certainly created deterrence for huge amounts from being distributed among the electors. Besides cash, other things used during election as items of bribe are liquor, drugs, community feasts paid news, etc. There have been sizeable quantity of seizure of gift items and illicit liquor in all the above states during the election process. The Commission enforces this by way of issuing administrative guidelines. However, the Commission faces a major challenge in absence of proper legislation in this regard, i.e bribery at elections being a non-cognisable offence, though the Commission’s guidelines have curbed excessive use of money power during the recent elections. While there is a ceiling for the candidates' campaign expenditure, there is no ceiling on the expenditure by the political parties. A party can spend large sum in a constituency in the name of General Party Propaganda. This poses a major hurdle in controlling the money power. A legislation for bringing transparency and accountability in party funding and party campaign expenditure, will strengthen the hands of Commission in controlling excessive campaign expenditure.

Has the practice of declaring constituencies as `expenditure sensitive’ and deploying Expenditure Observers and Statistics Surveillance teams etc. really helped?

Expenditure sensitive constituencies are identified on the basis of economic profile of the constituency and number of complaints received regarding bribe. In expenditure sensitive constituencies, the Commission deploys more number of flying squads and static surveillance teams for checking. This helps in keeping control over movement of cash and other items of bribes in the constituency during the election process, as the teams seize any item of bribe or cash which are not properly explained. The seizure figure as mentioned above indicates that the measures have become effective.

Is the EC satisfied with the tone, tenor and the language of the political speeches? Is any disturbing trend being seen? And is the Commission empowered to take action beyond sending notices?

The EC is seriously concerned and deeply anguished by the tone and language of election campaign by some of the political parties in the current elections. While the Commission is competent to de-recognize a recognized political party for (repeated) violations of the model code, it has exhorted the political parties to practise self-restraint in criticizing their opponent parties in the election campaign. The EC has put all political parties on notice and has warned them that repeated violations of the model code and use of intemperate and abusive language may invite action against the defaulting political parties. The Advisory (dated 28.11.2013) issued by the Commission in this regard is posted in the Commission’s website.

What kind of power or authority does the EC still lack in enforcing a more fair election?

(1) The political parties may be required, under the law to have a ceiling on the election expenditure and to disclose their audited accounts.

(2) Bribing of electors should be made a cognisable offence by brining suitable amendments in the IPC. Besides, there are large number of electoral reforms which are pending with the Government for finalisation.

(3) The candidate’s pre-election period campaign expenditure needs to be accounted for, by bringing suitable amendments in law.

(4) There is urgent need for bringing suitable legislation for banning expenditure in cash by candidates or political parties and also for banning large donations in cash from anonymous donors.


A shorter, edited version of this appears in print

COMMENTS PRINT
elections: poll expenses
The state elections rolled out smoothly, but it’s money power which ruled on the ground
Uttam Sengupta, Debarshi Dasgupta
elections: poll expenses
Corporates don’t really want to disclose donation details
Arindam Mukherjee
opinion
Time to end vote-buying, time to give legislators more say in govt
Narendar Pani
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