UPA undermines EC, again

Law min counters EC effort move to bring transparency in political funding and expenses

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | April 2, 2013



There is nothing new in the UPA government’s attempts to weaken two constitutional bodies which have proved equal to their mandates – the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) and the election commission (EC). The first one has brought some kind of accountability to the government’s functioning; unearthing several mega scams in the process in the past few years and the second has kept our election process largely free and fair. Having failed to do much about CAG, it seems UPA is now hell-bent on curbing the EC’s powers.

Three recent developments prove that. The latest one is a communication from the law ministry (which is the administrative ministry for EC) turning down EC’s suggestions to amend the electoral law and rules so as to bring transparency in the way political parties raise money and fund their election expenses.

Most parties take advantage of the fact that the Representation of People Act merely provides for submitting “a report on contributions in excess of Rs 20,000” (which are to be paid through bank cheques). They show most contributions to be less than Rs 20,000 and thereby, hide the source of hundreds of crore of rupees they raise for poll expenses. In order to check the flow of black money into the political parties, EC wanted details, including the PAN, of those who contribute even less than Rs 20,000, to be submitted.

But the law ministry rejected it saying that such a change would be against the RP Act (clause 29C), which seeks merely submission of a list of donors making contributions above Rs 20,000 and that once this is done by the political parties, it could be said that it is “in the manner required by law”. The EC has no power to scrutinise the account for its accuracy.

In another context (regarding filing of election expenses by candidates in the LR Shivaramagowda vs. TM Chandrasekhar case) the supreme court had gone into the question of whether filing a report, whether incorrect or untrue in content, can be taken as “in the manner required by law”. The apex court held that unless the report provides a true and correct account, which the EC is empowered to check, no report can be said to have been filed in accordance with the law. A report has to provide an accurate and true account. Citing this case, EC had disqualified Umlesh Yadav, a member of the UP assembly, in October 2011 and banned her from fighting elections for three years (see: http://eci.gov.in/eci_main/recent/Disqualification_case_Umkesh_Yadav.pdf) for suppressing information regarding “paid news”.

The government hadn’t bothered to react then. But when a similar case of “paid news” came up against former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, the law ministry took a shocking stand in the supreme court. On March 13, it filed an affidavit saying that EC had no power to scrutinise Chavan’s poll expense account for correctness. Mere filing of the account would be taken as “in accordance with law”. This was a clear ploy to protect Chavan from being disqualified as a legislator and banned from contesting elections.

That is not all. Last year, the government had tried to weaken EC’s hands by attempting to give statutory status to the model code of conduct (MCC), which is voluntary in nature and is enforced by EC. Having been formulated and accepted by all the political parties and backed by the apex court, EC has managed to enforce MCC to keep our elections largely free and fair. The government wanted to make a mess of it by handing over the jurisdiction to the court of law by giving MCC a statutory status. The government knows well that once a case goes to the court, it can be delayed for years and effectively negated, unlike the current situation in which EC takes prompt action and censures candidates for violating MCC.

Fortunately, the designs of the government were exposed by the media and the government was forced to retract its steps.

But by trying to block EC from scrutinising political funding and poll expenses, the government is hell-bent on weakening any move that would check the flow of black money into the electoral politics.

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