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Not the right time to have state funding of polls in India: EC

Conference on the use of money in politics & its effect on People’s Representation

New Delhi : The Election Commission of India (EC) today said the time was not ripe to go for state funding of elections in the country unless “radical reforms” like de-criminalisation of politics and enactment of strong financial transparency laws for candidates and political parties.

“Many political parties have demanded state funding. We do not have direct funding of parties. There are certain in-direct benefits like free electoral rolls, free air-time on state-owned media, free space for registered offices in state capital and tax exemptions (for parties).

“EC is of the view that state funding should not be considered unless some radical reforms are accompanied in areas such as de-criminalisation of politics in a democracy in parties, holistic electoral finance reforms, robust transparency and audit and strict legal regime for enforcement of anti-corruption laws,” Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi said while inaugurating a global conference on the influence of money in politics here.

If it (reforms) is not done, Zaidi said, the EC “suspects state funding will become one more additional tool, one more additional source of funds without reduction of use of illegal money in election campaign and this in a way can restrict the participation of right thinking citizens (in the polls process in the country).”

State funding of polls imply the government providing funds to parties and candidates to fight elections, replacing the existing system of ploughing in private or party funds for the job.

The CEC called upon the political parties and the government to promptly act on reforms pending in the clean financial electoral policy domain.

“This is high time that reforms proposal on electoral finance moved by the EC and the Law Commission are processed for holistic legislative sanction on fast track. We urge all political parties to take lead to lay down regulatory regime for themselves. This will set good example before people and strengthen democracy. This is a challenge that EC alone cannot handle without involvement of political parties and all stakeholders…,” he said.

He also focusing on  poll expenses ; The majority of candidates contesting polls in India are “under-reporting” their expenses and inadequate laws to regulate political funds may lead to a “fearful” situation where institutions go under the “control of money” and holding fair polls becomes difficult, Chief Election Commissioner(CEC) Nasim Zaidi said today.

He said the existing regime     for regulating donations received and funds raised by political parties are not “deterrent enough” to check black money and illegal inducements that are used to lure voters and disturb the fair play ground of the electoral process in the country.

“With the passage of time, elections are becoming expensive. Ordinary citizens, even with outstanding personal record and public service, cannot even dream to contest elections. Available resources are being garnered by few political parties and their candidates. This situation is making parties dependent on money power with all adverse implications on the society and polity.

“…in the absence of such regulations, it is feared that various institutions can be under control of money and holding free and fair elections can become increasingly difficult, Zaidi said here while addressing a global conference.

While talking about the Indian electoral perspective, the CEC said their data “indicates that candidates are under-reporting expenses within the prescribed ceiling.

“Out of 535 winners in the last Parliamentary elections, expenses of majority of winners reported to the EC were in the range of 40-80 per cent only. In reality, as we all know, candidates spend several times their legal limit to run election campaign,” he said.

As per EC guidelines, a candidate trying his luck at public office for Lok Sabha polls can spend upto Rs 70 lakh while those fighting Assembly polls have the upper limit of RS 28 lakh.

Zaidi was speaking while inaugurating the regional conference of South Asian countries on the theme– ‘Use of Money in Politics and Effects on People Representation’.

Amongst the various ways abused to breach the spending limits by candidates, he said, was by the way of including in paid news instances.

“Now, how these spending limits are violated…it is violated by candidates by indulging in paid news…by spending huge amounts under the garb of paid news,” he said.

The CEC said in the past few years, several hundred cases of paid news have been detected by its teams and expenses incurred on these have been added to the accounts of the candidates.

“However, since candidates in any case under-report, adding these expenses to the candidates accounts is not affecting their limits and therefore the candidates are escaping the legal scrutiny of law,” he said.

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