The Election Commission (EC) recently disqualified 2,171 candidates from contesting elections for the next three years as they failed to submit their poll expenditure accounts within the stipulated period. In September 2009, it disqualified 3,275 contestants but this did not deter many from crossing the statutory expenditure limit. What should the EC do to bring financial transparency and propriety in the elections? DNA asks experts.
Sources funding elections are murky; hence not revealed
It is a good move but it should have come earlier. The EC must be complimented but this move alone will not be enough to end the menace of money power in elections. I have filed an RTI query seeking tax returns filed by the Congress and BJP. However, the Central Board of Direct Taxes has failed to ensure that they submit the tax returns. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India has come up with accounting standards for political parties. The BJP and Congress say that they will not put up the details of the electoral expenses on their websites or the EC’s website. The real reason why the parties and candidates fail to show their spending is because the sources of funding are murky and their spending frequently crosses the limit set by the EC. The reason why Maharashtra has the maximum number of disqualified candidates is because the corruption levels in politics are the highest here. RTI activists have been brutally murdered and nobody has been brought to book yet. The only solution to ensure that electoral funding is transparent is that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) must audit the returns filed by the candidates.
Vivek Velankar, president,
Sajag Nagarik Manch
Results should be declared when all show their expenses
If there is a rule that requires candidates to file their election spendings within 30 days of the results being announced, then the EC must see to it that the rule is followed. The EC must itself implement its own rules strictly. If the candidates, who have been disqualified are the ones, who have never won, then it makes little difference whether they are disqualified or not. The EC should bring in a law, which states that the election results will only be announced after the candidates submit the details of the expenditure they have incurred. The state has the maximum number of disqualified candidates because of high levels of industrialisation and property brokers and corporates, who are willing to fund the candidates. This money is all given without receipts. The elections are held to elect lawmakers, who are expected to obey the laws as they themselves will be making them. The EC must see to it that candidates campaign with a bare minimum of paraphernalia like flex boards and cut-outs and without too much pomp and ceremony.
Kumar Saptrishi, Gandhian and Founder,
Yuvak Kranti Dal
Funding should be more transparent for donors
The EC is doing a fantastic job. My question is that how many of these candidates are elected? If a few of them are, then it is a question as to what steps the EC will take now. These are the candidates, who are now involved in framing laws and it is imperative that they as lawmakers follow them. The candidates fail to submit the details of the electoral expenditure incurred by them because the bulk of electoral is illegal and candidates spend three to four times more than the set limit. Under reporting is another major problem. The candidates sometimes put up amounts, which are ridiculously low and obviously not realistic. The root cause is that elections in India have become very expensive. In each election, parties outdo each other to buy votes. Parties need to raise funds to distribute freebies of various kinds to the voters. I cannot say why Maharashtra specifically has the highest number of disqualified candidates as I have not sufficiently anaylsed the issue. The solution is to make electoral funding more transparent, including for the donors, and have public funding of elections. The government can have a dedicated fund, which can be used to fight elections. Once these two are in place, the issue of expenditure not being reported will reduce.
Krishnakumar Iyer, spokesperson, Professionals Party of India
Most disqualified candidates are non-serious
The bulk of the candidates, who were disqualified are not serious candidates. They are mostly independents, from small parties and do not have serious intention of fighting the elections and winning. Many of them are not even aware that you are supposed to file the details of what expenditure you have incurred on fighting the elections. It is mandatory on the EC’s part to take action against such candidates and hence the move is on expected lines. The EC limits for the Lok Sabha and assembly polls are too low and not realistic. They must be raised to between Rs35 lakh and Rs50 lakh. There are thousands of party workers involved in fighting elections and one needs to make arrangements for them, which can be quite expensive. When the EC had not imposed such a strict code of conduct, it was possible to woo voters through banners, cut-outs, flexes and posters. But now all this has been banned, forcing parties to rely on money power to woo voters. As far as electoral funding is concerned, a dedicated fund for elections, which all parties can use, is a good idea, but who will pay for this fund is an open question.
Abhay Chhajed, President, Congress Unit Pune
It is a routine exercise for the EC to disqualify candidates
Disqualifying elected candidates is the EC’s routine exercise. In September 2009, the EC had disqualified 3,275 contestants. Now, it has disqualified 2,171 candidates. Though the number has reduced, it is not significant. It will reinforce the need to project the election expenditure more carefully and avoid problematic figures. All candidates in Parliamentary and assembly elections cross the statutory limit of expenditure set by the EC. But the submission of expenditure on paper is presented meticulously to avoid any action. Only those who lag behind in smart paper work are found guilty. So the current disqualification of so many candidates will not deter other candidates to spend less but to spend the same or more amount with maximum care. The code of conduct laid down by the EC is not enough to do away with this menace because the root cause of money power in election lies somewhere else in our body politic. It has to be addressed at different levels with different solutions.
Vidyabhushan Arya, political analyst