Political parties have consistently been demanding they shall be allowed to spend more on election campaigning. However, expenditure statements of MPs claim they actually spent less than they were permitted to in the last Lok Sabha election.
Parties had argued earlier limits were too meagre compared to the rise in prices on account of inflation. Last month, the EC therefore raised the cap from Rs. 40 lakh to Rs. 70 lakh for each Lok Sabha constituency in bigger states such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka.
For smaller states such as Goa, the limit was raised from Rs. 22 lakh to Rs. 54 lakh on a par with other hilly and north eastern states.
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The government also cleared the proposal to raise expenditure limits for assembly elections, with a maximum of Rs. 28 lakh and a minimum of Rs. 20 lakh in north eastern and hill states.
But election watchdog Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has said the expenditure statements declared by the MPs in the 2009 Lok Sabha Elections show that on an average the MPs declared an election spending of Rs. 14.62 lakh, about 59% of the average expense limit in 2009 polls.
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It said in the five assembly elections held recently, on an average, MLAs in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh declared expenditure far lower than the limit set by the EC. In Delhi, MLAs declared an average expenditure of about 51% of the expense limit, Chhattisgarh 53%, Madhya Pradesh 48%, Rajasthan 46% and Mizoram 55%.
Will the raised cap have any impact on electoral and democratic reforms? ADR founder Professor Trilochan Sastry doesn't think so.
"Raising the ceiling does not address the real issues. First, we need a level playing field so that any public-minded citizen with a desire for public service should be able to contest elections without being at a disadvantage. Raising the ceiling has no impact on that," he said.
He said raising the cap also does not address the issue of "transparency in the funding, source of the funding and penalties for not being transparent".
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The serious issue of the huge amount of black money spent on campaigning is also not addressed by the Cabinet decision raising the expenditure cap, he said.
Neither do the new guidelines throw light on the penalty for violating the new Rs70-lakh limit, an ADR statement said.
The ADR and National Election Watch have analysed the 2009 Lok Sabha election expenditure statements submitted by 437 MPs (statements of others were not available at the time of making the report, ADR claimed).
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