In the backdrop of the NDA government’s high decibel campaign against black money, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has done its bit by pushing the need to go digital as far as possible. Recapping its existing order that makes it mandatory for contestants to open separate bank accounts for their election expenses and for making payments over Rs 20,000 by cheque, it is ensuring not just an enforcement of its own rules but sees it as compliance with the government’s move towards a digital economy.
The EC has joined forces with the Centre in its ‘surgical strike’ against black money by suggesting lowering the existing limit for cash donations to political parties from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000. And to prevent the inflow of illegal money into political coffers, it has asked for an investigation by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) into the finances of 255 registered but unrecognised political parties. The EC fears these could be a haven for unaccounted for money. Most political parties get away with transferring their donations to the books, making use of the provision that allows cash donations under Rs 20,000 to remain anonymous.
Another addition this year has been the EC’s announcement that it will monitor and account for the time spent on the publicity of candidates and parties on television channels owned or partly owned by them. Getting political parties and their candidates to adhere to the expense cap formulated by the Commission is a tall order as hiding expenses is an art they have mastered. The Commission here is trying to catch up, taking one step at a time, which explains the decision to add all expenditure incurred by candidates, their party agents, senior party leaders and star campaigners on their travel, boarding and miscellaneous expenses.
The Commission will for the first time include charges incurred on setting up booths outside the polling stations in the candidates’ expense account. Eradicating graft has been underlined as one of the most crucial aspects of electoral reforms. Caches of cash, narcotics, alcohol and gifts seized in raids during campaigning have gone up with every election, reaching alarming figures. It was, therefore, seen as a first big step towards cleaning up the electoral exercise when the Commission countermanded polling in two constituencies, Aravakurichi and Thanjavur, during the 2015- Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, after it concluded there was evidence of graft in influencing the election outcome.
The Commission’s bid to seek powers to countermand elections on grounds of money and muscle misuse as it does in the case of booth capturing awaits the government’s approval; an indication that the political class is still reluctant to clean up the system. Bu the ECI’s perseverance is a positive sign.