Ex-CAG suggests dissent notes should be recorded in EC orders
India’s former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), Vinod Rai, has called for the Election Commission of India (ECI) to make dissent notes public in its final Model Code of Conduct orders, and described the controversy that erupted over the issue during the 2019 general elections as “avoidable”.
In the middle of the Lok Sabha elections, election commissioner Ashok Lavasa recused himself from all ECI meetings on MCC issues, after the poll panel did not include his dissent note in the final orders while clearing top leaders (including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah) of violation charges.
The commission maintained that there was no precedence of making dissent notes a part of the final order as these are not part of quasi-judicial hearings.
Referring to the controversy, Rai, in his new book, Rethinking Good Governance, said, “… Having such a record [of dissent] maintains the credibility of the institution. In any democracy, the role of the election commission is far too critical for any dent in its reputation by such avoidable controversy.”
Without taking names, Rai, who as CAG estimated a loss of ₹1.76 crore to the exchequer in the allocation of 2G spectrum licences to private players in 2004 and 2009, cited media reports drawing attention to dissension among the ECs on some of these issues.
“…The entire controversy appears to have been avoidable. Admittedly, while the ECI aspires for unanimous decisions, its rules provide for a majority ruling in the absence of unanimity. Institutions such as the ECI have evolved over the years and have withstood scrutiny over multiple elections...,” he said in his book,which was released on September 5. “Its credibility has been repeatedly tested in courts. Its functioning and, lately, its reliance on EVMs (electronic voting machines) have withstood the test of scrutiny. It has weathered all this stoically,” Rai said.
The former CAG also backed the idea of ‘one nation, one poll’, or simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections, mooted by PM Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party. “The advantages ascribed to such a move include economising on the massive expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections, the so-called ‘policy paralysis’,” Rai said in the book.
To illustrate his opinion against the policy paralysis during the implementation of the poll code, Rai cited the example of 2016, when MCC was notified in Maharashtra for 307 days — in different areas — due to elections to the parliament, the assembly or local bodies.
Election Commission officials did not respond to requests for a comment on the former CAG opinions.