Political funding needs to be more transparent, says outgoing CEC Zaidi

Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi
Jul 12, 2017 10:34 AM IST

Chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi has said that he would have retired with more satisfaction had the government agreed to make political funding more transparent, reflecting upon the five years he spent heading one of Indian democracy’s most important institutions.

Nasim Zaidi said the EC couldn’t have handled the EVM controversy in a better way.(HT File Photo)
Nasim Zaidi said the EC couldn’t have handled the EVM controversy in a better way.(HT File Photo)

“Every commission would have liked many more reforms to come. Some minor changes in rules have taken place, but the bulk of reforms remains. I would have been more satisfied to see these reforms take place, like the transparency in political funding. It is the biggest concern for the people,” said Zaidi, who retires on July 5.

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India’s electoral system has historically been blighted by malpractices such as voter coercion, voter bribery, use of funds obtained by dishonest or criminal means, candidates concealing criminal backgrounds.

The Election Commission, a constitutional authority, has attempted to tackle these problems by making policy suggestions, and, during elections, implementing laws to keep the polling process clean.

In an interview to Hindustan Times, Zaidi said he has largely been satisfied with his tenure. “The entire vision of the commission has been voter centric. Whenever we planned anything, we would see how the voter will be impacted,” he said, adding that under him, the panel had been strengthened.

In the last Union budget, the government introduced electoral bonds ostensibly to keep donors identity secret.

This, according to Zaidi, is among issues that need addressing.

“We are demanding making bribery a cognisable offence, criminalisation of paid news and countermanding power (to put off elections on grounds of bribery). Another area refers to the use of totalisers,” he said.

The commission, Zaidi said, has been in touch with the Union law ministry, but the reform initiatives have not reached a logical conclusion.

The 20th CEC recounted a controversy over voting machines — which certain political parties accused of being vulnerable to rigging — as one of the more surprising episodes.

“EC remains apolitical, neutral and independent. To say it is biased or soft on the government is not true. So, the controversy over the electronic voting machines was a surprise. It was not expected. Our mechanism is non-tamperable,” he said.

“We will employ VVPATs (machines with a paper trail) at all polling stations going forward. We have the money, over Rs 3,000 crore,” he said, adding that the process will put to rest misgivings about voting machines.

Zaidi said the EC couldn’t have handled the EVM controversy in a better way. “As for the challenge, we were going by the allegations that the result stored in the machines can be altered by using mobile, wifi or activating a secret code by pressing a combination of keys.

“So, we asked them to come and prove these allegations by using the same techniques. Nobody came forward, two parties came, but said we have come to learn more about the EVMs,” he said.

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    Smriti covers an intersection of politics and governance. Having spent over a decade in journalism, she combines old fashioned leg work with modern story telling tools.

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