Electoral reforms take a backseat as cash, booze bribes flood elections

  • Satya Prakash, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 28, 2016 01:35 IST
Officials have seized large amounts of cash and liquor in the poll-bound states of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. (Representative Photo)

States going to the polls this April-May have reported an unbridled flow of black money or unaccounted cash and alcohol to bribe voters, a menace the election commission encounters every election in the country.

Officials have seized large amounts of cash and liquor in the poll-bound states of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. This bribe money might cross Rs 100 crore.

But black money is just one of the malaises plaguing the electoral system, which is crying for serious reforms for decades.

The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) said the election commission seized around Rs 300 crore of unaccounted cash and more than 17,000 kg of drugs, and an equally large amount of liquor and arms during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. No one knows how much undetected money was used then.

Read | Delhi HC asks govt to take measures to check use of money power in polls

The Delhi high court last week reminded the government of its responsibility a year after the law commission recommended a set of electoral reforms.

The court plugged a crucial loophole in the tax law that allowed political parties to avoid tax in certain cases of voluntary contributions. It held that failure to maintain audited books of voluntary contributions of over Rs 10,000 will be liable to be taxed as “income from other sources”.

The poll panel has written to successive governments and held meetings with political parties for decades to convince them on electoral reforms. But its efforts didn’t draw any encouraging response as the political class remained averse to changes in the poll system.

Whatever little has been achieved was because of the Supreme Court, which issued a series of orders between 2013 and 2015.

“The political system has been captured by a small group of people. They are very happy with the current system. They have developed vested interests in it. One by one they rule the country. If you talk of change, they feel threatened and that’s why they don’t want it to change,” said professor Trilochan Sastry of ADR.

Candidates have been at the centre of electoral reforms and most of the top court’s orders are aimed at them, such as dos and don’ts. The time is ripe to shift the focus to political parties that play the most crucial role in the system.

Read | EC wants candidates to show source of income, parties oppose

Even the Constitution, known as the lengthiest in the world, is silent on political parties. The Election Commission can register a political party but it cannot deregister it.

“Reforming political parties is very important. In June 2013, the central information commission ruled that political parties are covered under the RTI Act, but not implemented yet. The matter is now pending before the Supreme Court,” Sastry said.

Professor Jagdeep Chhokar, another ADR member, agreed. “The law commission’s recommendations on electoral reforms, particularly on political parties, must be implemented.”

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