Under attack from the political class for taking on leaders for violating the mode code of conduct, CEC Nasim Zaidi has flagged the demand for introducing a collegiums system for appointments. In an interview to HT, he talked about the need for political consensus to select the poll panel and his efforts to push for greater transparency in funding and election processes.
There are SC instructions against invoking religion and caste during campaigning. The EC also issued letters to all political parties to adhere to this. Yet, there has been no check on statements aimed at polarising castes and communities. Does the EC need more power to deal with such transgressions?
There is a SC judgment of January 2 and our guidelines of January 24. The SC has widened the scope of Section 123. Earlier it was limited to appeal on behalf of the candidate, now it has included agents, third party and opponent and seeking votes on behalf of religion etc. If some parties or candidates still do it, someone might file an election petition and if the charges are proved, the election can be nullified.
People have not understood the SC order, the real impact will be known after the election results are out and if someone chooses to file petitions on this ground – that will be the real impact.
However, some cases were brought to our notice, against four parties. The complaint to us was that they mixed religion or caste with election campaign and action should be taken.
Another thing we noticed is that some of these statements were made outside the poll area…if a statement is made outside the area under model code of conduct (MCC), it does not result in violation unless there is a reference to poll going area.
In February, we issued a strong advisory to all political parties not to mix religion and caste with campaign. Of late political parties are giving due consideration to our advisory.
There is a perception that EC’s orders are not being taken seriously.
I can’t say that the MCC provision not being attended to seriously. There are few non adherents and we have already brought to the knowledge of the Cabinet Secretary… we wrote to the NITI Aayog, Ministries of defence, we wrote to the Cabinet Secretary on the issue of budget (date being brought forward) and more recently to the Home and DONER [for not seeking our sanction before felicitating sportspersons].
I won’t generalise that our instructions are not heeded to. There are existing instructions and they are listening to us. During these elections we received 168 matters, referred to us from the government (for clearance). If they were not adhering to it, why would they refer it to us?
Has the EC proposed that election related FIRs should be fast tracked?
We have not said so. But investigation and court trials are independent processes.
In the Commission we are monitoring with the state governments the rate of disposal of these cases. There is a delay; our review shows there is a 2.5 years lag in disposal. By the next elections we will know how many cases from the current election have been disposed. For petitions in the High Court requested for a separate court, but at the lower levels no such mechanism has been sought.
The SC had said that important cases should be disposed within one year.
Is there a need for a collegium to choose the CEC and ECs who should have equal protection under the Constitution in the matter of removal.
If all political parties not on board in the selection of ECs …there will always be an issue. There might be concerns that ‘A’ been appointed by a particular party etc. All CECs appointed earlier, worked according to legal and constitutional provisions in a neutral way. Present system has worked well, but going forward it will be better, if the opposition is also taken into confidence at the time selection of election commissioners. Then nobody can say party a does not have faith in ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’.
Even in the present system, the framework of commission keeps us bound to neutrality. But if all political parties can also have confidence, it will be better than the present system, who knows.
Our other recommendation is that other two ECs should have constitutional protection.
The EC had run-in with the Mamata government on the issue of replacing the police commissioner and several other issues. Delhi CM Kejriwal accused the EC of being partisan. Are governments and political parties undermining the authority of the Commission?
If people are reacting to our actions, which we considered to be right, then so be it. We expect everybody to speak with more responsibility. We take action that we consider right. If right actions are criticised, we can’t help it.
Last year for the first time polls were deferred in two constituencies in TN on grounds of bribery. Yet, the government is yet to come around to the demand for allowing EC the powers to countermand polls on grounds of bribery?
The government’s reason for disagreeing is that bribery is a matter of investigation. We say, so is booth capturing. We say we countermand elections for booth capturing only on the basis of the report of the returning officers and observers. Similarly, we will also countermand elections for bribing if we have the reports and reliable evidence that there has been large scale distribution of bribe, only in those cases we will countermand elections.
It will not be that we have heard something and call for countermand. We are pursuing this; it is not a question of seeking more powers, but bring more fairness in elections. We have only two elements, free and fair elections.
The other provision we are seeking is that bribing should be made a cognizable offence, so that if there is a case, the offender can be arrested by the police.
The third thing we want is to make paid news as an offence. It is to enhance the fairness of the elections we are seeking amendment. And we hope soon than later our recommendation will find sufficient resonance.
We hear complaints from people, NGOS etc that commission is not doing enough. They want us to use Article 324; we have done that in Tamil Nadu, but we want a proper law.
The MHA has drafted a bill to make bribery a cognizable offence and it has been circulated to the states for their comment.
Going by the seizure records, demonetisation it seems has not checked the inflow of illegal money into the electoral system.
It is a fact that during elections there is a misuse of money. Blackmoney in different forms … cash, gold, liquor and drugs…we have to attack each aspect of misuse of money. On the ground level we monitor whether the expense limit is maintained, though most do not show having spent even half of that limit.
What is your view about the Centre’s decision to introduce electoral bonds?
The recommendation to lower the cash donation limit from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000 was made by the EC. This is a good initiation. As for the introduction of electoral bonds, we have not received any formal communication from the government. We will be able to comment only when we receive the scheme.
We always stand for reduction of anonymity of donors. We will hope the bonds will reduce it further.
The suggestion to list the source of income was turned down by political parties, is there another way of ensuring accountability?
We have already written to Law ministry on this. There is a demand to list profession in the affidavit being filed by the contestants as people generally write social work etc., Then there is the issue of incomes and assets going up; so we have said apart from the income being listed in the affidavits, its source must also be shown.
Is there a move in the works to prevent candidates with criminal charges from contesting?
We have suggested that at least those involved in heinous crimes, such a rape and murder and where the charge sheet is framed … such people should be debarred from participating in elections. This (recommendation) is before the law ministry to take appropriate amendment.
A Congress delegation from Uttarakhand also alleged that the EC has been partisan. They want an FIR against the Prime Minister for violating MCC?
They have given a representation, it is under examination.