Election Commission Cannot Ban on Opinion Polls: Sampath

The Election Commission cannot ban broadcast and publication of opinion polls, Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath said today, days after the Law Ministry suggested the poll panel that it can restrict such polls using its powers under Article 324.

"As in law where there is a field not covered by any legislation, the Commission can use its power under Article 324. But under Article 77 we cannot do that," Sampath said at a press conference in Ranchi.

Under Article 77 of the Constitution, all executive actions of the Centre are taken in the name of the President.

"Because of it, our considerate view is since Parliament has already applied its mind, we would not be in a position to ban opinion polls under Article 324," he said.

Article 324 gives the Election Commission power of superintendence, direction and control of conducting the elections.

Sampath said the government made the legislation in 2009 and Parliament approved banning only exit polls and "did not consider banning opinion polls."

The Commission has reverted to the government saying that bringing a law would be a better idea. EC feels that restricting opinion polls under Article 324 may not be "legally sustainable".

It told the Law Ministry that since exit polls were also restricted by law, it should follow similar procedure on opinion polls.

The poll panel had proposed that there should be a prohibition on publication and broadcast of the results of opinion polls starting from the date of notification of elections till the completion of the last phase of polls to the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies.

Existing law allows EC to ban opinion polls just 48 hours prior to voting.

Earlier this year, the Attorney General had backed a proposal of the EC to altogether ban publication and broadcast of opinion polls between announcement of election schedule and final phase of polling.

To support his view to ban opinion polls, the AG had also pointed that the amendments incorporating restrictions in relation to exit polls have been in force for over three years "and there does not appear to be a challenge to this."

On February 28, the EC had referred to its proposal to amend the law for restricting publication of results of opinion polls and lamented that no action has been taken so far.

"It may be recalled that the Commission had made a proposal to amend the law for restricting publishing the results of opinion polls. However, no action has been taken on the proposal which was initially made in 2004.

"...In view of the issue raised in the complaint of the Indian National Congress, the Commission would like necessary action to be taken by the government on its above referred proposal," the poll panel had said.

The government, however, seems to be in no hurry to take a call on the issue. It has referred the matter to the Law Commission which is already examining the broader issue of electoral reforms.

The ministry had told the EC that since a law at this stage was not possible, it should use powers vested to it under Article 324 to restrict opinion polls.

"The Law Commission is already examining the issue of electoral reforms. Opinion polls are part of larger issue of electoral reforms. Therefore, the matter has been referred to it. As it is we cannot bring a law in the middle of elections," a senior government functionary told.

Earlier this year, the Attorney General had backed a proposal of the EC to altogether ban publication and broadcast of opinion polls between announcement of election schedule and final phase of polling.

To support his view to ban opinion polls, the AG had also pointed that the amendments incorporating restrictions in relation to exit polls have been in force for over three years "and there does not appear to be a challenge to this."

On February 28, the EC had referred to its proposal to amend the law for restricting publication of results of opinion polls and lamented that no action has been taken so far.

"It may be recalled that the Commission had made a proposal to amend the law for restricting publishing the results of opinion polls. However, no action has been taken on the proposal which was initially made in 2004.

"...In view of the issue raised in the complaint of the Indian National Congress, the Commission would like necessary action to be taken by the government on its above referred proposal," the poll panel had said.

The government, however, seems to be in no hurry to take a call on the issue. It has referred the matter to the Law Commission which is already examining the broader issue of electoral reforms.

The ministry had told the EC that since a law at this stage was not possible, it should use powers vested to it under Article 324 to restrict opinion polls.

"The Law Commission is already examining the issue of electoral reforms. Opinion polls are part of larger issue of electoral reforms. Therefore, the matter has been referred to it. As it is we cannot bring a law in the middle of elections," a senior government functionary told.
 

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