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Election Commission signals reform with proposal on poll expense cap

The poll panel wants the Centre to amend the Representation of the People Act and Rule 90 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, to this effect.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2018 23:38 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Election Commission,Lok Sabha 2019 election,Election expenditure
Polling officers check electronic voting machines at an EVM distribution centre in Noida.(HT File Photo)

The Election Commission (EC) has floated a proposal to cap the poll expenses of political parties, signalling its intent for a major electoral reform ahead of the 2019 elections.

The agenda paper for the all-party meeting convened by the EC on August 27 says, “The Commission has proposed to the law ministry that a ceiling may be stipulated on election expenditure by political parties towards Parliamentary or Assembly elections. It had proposed that such ceiling should be either 50% of or not more than the expenditure ceiling limit provided for the candidate multiplied by the number of candidates of the party contesting the election.”

The poll panel wants the Centre to amend the Representation of the People Act and Rule 90 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, to this effect. While the panel had floated these ideas as a part of its overall reforms last year, the specific proposal will now be discussed with stakeholders. An official associated with the EC said the proposal was sent to the EC only “recently”.

Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, termed it as a “very significant” development. “The loophole on party expenditure has made individual limits on spending farcical. The issue is with enforcement. Given the difficulties of monitoring and enforcement, it is not clear how limits on parties will be more efficacious than limits on candidates. I would prefer a situation where contributions were made more transparent and spending limits were relaxed. But the government has made the former ever more opaque,” he said.

The panel wants to discuss alternative modes of voting for domestic migrants and absentee voters and measures for parties to encourage enhanced representation of women both in its organization and poll candidates’ list.

The poll body also wants to impose a ceiling on expenses incurred by parties for legislative council polls and debate if there is a need for enforcement measures to ensure timely submission of annual audit reports. The EC said in the background paper that in 2016-17, only 15 out of 47 state recognised parties filed their election expenses audit.

The Opposition parties, however, want to talk about the EVMs and demand their removal — an issue that is not on the agenda. Senior Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, “Returning to the ballot system may be the ultimate objective. Meanwhile, there should be a stronger and immediate move to enhance the VPAT coverage and minimization of machine failures.”

CPI(M) leader Nilotpal Basu, who will represent his party at the EC’s meeting, refused to accept most of the suggestions, including the cap on a party’s poll expenses. “We want a different method to be adopted.” The CPI(M), however, will not join the Opposition chorus for re-introduction of ballot papers. “We want the loophopes in VPAT systems to be removed and no private company should be involved at any level of production of EVM machines.”

Jagdeep Chhokar of Association for Democratic Reforms said: “Election Commission’s initiative proposing limits on the expenditure that political parties can incur on elections is very welcome. It is widely known and accepted that over 99.9% of the candidates grossly under-report in their election expenditure affidavits. Hard data exists to prove this. The real solution is to enforce Central Information Commission’s 2013 decision that political parties are public authorities under the RTI Act which six national political parties are blatantly defying.

First Published: Aug 21, 2018 23:36 IST