The government has taken back the controversial Law Ministry proposal to frame a law to ban opinion polls, predicting the outcome of elections. It is now considering only restrictions on publication and telecast of exit polls till voting is over.
The ban proposal was to be taken up by the Union Cabinet on September 4, but was quietly withdrawn at the last moment.
A senior Law Ministry official said, “We are considering a ban on the exit polls till the last vote is cast. These certainly influence the minds of the voters.”
The proposal, based on the Election Commission’s demand for banning such polls, had the support of all major political parties. But the ministry finally stepped back, following the Attorney General’s advice. In 1999, the Supreme Court rejected the commission’s petition seeking a ban on exit polls before the elections.
The ministry had proposed an amendment to the Representation of People’s Act by including a new section to ban these polls. But the ministry official said, “Based on the Attorney General’s advice, we have decided to re-examine the issue as it involves the freedom of expression.”
The ministry had sought the addition of section 126 (b) to the Act “to restrict publication and dissemination of opinion and exit polls conducted during the general and state assembly elections.”
Asked for his comments on the turnaround by the ministry on the issue, Law Minister HR Bhardwaj said, “The government has a right to review its proposal before it is finalised. We want an effective law that does not curtail the freedom of expression and makes the agencies conducting these polls responsible.”
The EC said it wanted the ban, since they could be easily manipulated. “There is a political consensus on this issue, something which is rare these days. We feel voters are susceptible to manipulative opinion polls,” Election Commissioner SY Qureshi said.
Well known psephologist Yogendra Yadav said though he did not favour a ban on the opinion and exit polls, some sort of regulation was certainly required.
“We have to admit that these polls in India are at times conducted without maturity. And the misuse to some extent cannot also be ruled out,” he said.