Chief election commissioner SY Quraishi believes the proposed constitutional amendments on debarring criminals from contesting elections and transparency in political funding will be greater fundamental reforms than the new lokpal Act for the health of Indian democracy.
"These will be the most crucial reforms to decriminalise elections and check the flow of black money in the electoral process," Quraishi said during an exclusive interaction with Hindustan Times at its "Leaderspeak@ht" programme on Monday.
In Chandigarh for a review on the Punjab assembly elections due in February next year, the CEC was referring to the law ministry's proposed changes in the Representation of the People Act, which are currently on the Prime Minister's table.
"If both the amendments get implemented, half the battle will be won," said Quraishi, who is credited with pushing a raft of reforms to clean up the election system. The draft bill proposes to disqualify those candidates from contesting elections against whom charges have been framed by courts for alleged criminal offences punishable with a jail term of five years or more.
This provision will, however, not apply in cases where "the charges were framed in less than a year before the date of filing nominations". The draft bill provides for safeguards against politically motivated charges too.
The second proposed amendment makes it mandatory for candidates, their parties and also functionaries to submit their accounts audited by an agency authorised by the Comptroller and Auditor General(CAG).
He said the government had realised public opinion was in favour of such steps. "By enacting these key reforms, the government will be doing a great national service," he said. "Otherwise, lawbreakers will continue to be lawmakers".
On the challenges before the Election Commission in holding the Punjab elections, Quraishi said the state had a bit of muscle power and "quite a bit" of money power. "We anticipate a lot of liquor playing a role in the elections," he said. But, we now have enough experience to understand the ground situation in each state and deal with it."