M A I N   N E W S

Bill on state funding of poll likely
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 11
In a far-reaching move and in trying to give a push to the much talked about electoral reforms, the Manmohan Singh government is expected to come forward with a Bill on state funding of elections in the ongoing winter session of Parliament.

While the Congress-led UPA government believes it will be a step forward in cleansing the politico-criminal nexus, state funding of elections may be in specific areas of the democratic process and for recognised political parties. At the same time it is widely believed that it is not possible for the Centre to take on the burden of state funding of elections in its entirety at this juncture.

It is futile to expect political parties putting winnability above everything else to do anything in preventing criminalisation of politics. Political parties have failed to evolve a consensus on this burning issue which they are quick to agree is vitiating the electoral process by use of sheer brawn and money power.

Taking everything into account, impartial observers believe that the system has to generate Rs 6,000 crore to Rs 7,000 crore in a five-year cycle for state funding of elections. On an average Rs 1,200 crore to Rs 1,500 crore is required annually which the state might find it extremely difficult to raise. At the same time criminal activity can generate such large sums of money.

It was in June 1998 that the Indrajit Gupta Committee was set up to go into the central issue of election funding. Preceded by an all-India party meet a month earlier in May 1998, the Indrajit Gupta Committee finalised its report on December 30, 1998.

The committee headed by the late CPI stalwart stressed that the state funding of elections was fully justified — constitutionally and legally. It observed that such funding should be confined to parties recognised as national or state parties by the Election Commission. To begin with only a part of the financial burden of political parties may be shifted to the state. A greater burden could be progressively shifted to the states so that ultimately all their legitimate expenses become a charge on the state. The committee suggested that state funding be in kind not cash.

It desired the creation of a separate election fund for meeting the expenses on state funding of elections. To begin with the Central Government may contribute Rs 600 crore annually at the rate of Rs 10 per elector for the total electorate of 60 crore in the country (which has since gone up to 68-70 crore). The state governments all taken together may contribute a matching amount proportionately or Rs 600 crore annually according with the present financial arrangement between the Centre and the states whereby all capital expenses on election items are shared by them on a 50:50 basis.

The Indrajit Gupta Committee said each candidate of a recognised political party be provided the following: specified quantity of petrol or diesel for vehicles used for an election campaign, specified quantity of paper for printing election literature and unofficial identity slips for distribution to voters, postal stamps of a specified amount, five copies of electoral roll of the constituency, a set of loudspeakers for every Assembly constituency or for every Assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency, subject to a maximum of six such sets for the entire parliamentary constituency, one deposit-free telephone with specified number of free calls for the main campaign office in every Assembly constituency/segment (subject to a maximum of six such telephones for the entire parliamentary constituency) and minimum arrangements for his camps outside each polling station on the day of poll.

The committee noted that political parties must submit their annual accounts regularly to the income tax authorities showing details of receipts and expenditure. No state funding should be provided to any party or its candidates if annual returns for the previous assessment year have not been filed under the Income Tax Act.

Political parties should also file a complete account of their election expenditure, both on general party propaganda and on individual candidates. There is general agreement that electoral reforms have been the subject of much research and little implementation. It was way back in 1974 that Jayaprakash Narayana set up the committee on Electoral Reforms under eminent jurist V.M. Tarkunde. The committee’s first recommendations in 1975 is a forerunner as committees constituted thereafter have taken the comprehensive Tarkunde proposals as their starting point.

It was the Tarkunde Committee’s view 31 years ago that state funding of elections was impracticable under the conditions prevailing in the country. It, however, recommended that certain facilities be made available to every constituency at government expense like giving printed cards with the registered number of voters and the polling booths where they may cast their vote, making available school rooms and halls for meetings, sending one communication to each voter free of postage and so on.

To curb money power in elections, the committee had recommended that all recognised political parties be required by law to keep full and accurate accounts, including their sources of income and details of expenditure. These accounts should be audited by chartered accountants nominated by the Election Commission and open to public inspection on moderate charges.

Several books have also contributed valuable suggestions for electoral reforms. L.P. Singh’s Electoral Reforms first published in 1986 brought to the fore the urgency to shore up the Election Commission’s powers to prevent unfair practices such as booth capturing. It also addressed the feasibility of disallowing persons with criminal records from contesting elections.

In January 1990, the then Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh convened a meeting of political parties in Parliament and set up the Dinesh Goswami Committee on electoral reforms under the chairmanship of the Law Minister.

The Dinesh Goswami Committee completed its work in five months in May 1990 and made far-reaching recommendations encompassing the Election Commission, delimitation and enrolment of eligible candidates including that a person should not be allowed to contest elections from more than two constituencies of the same class.


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