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State Funding Election Unrealistic
Brig (Retd) G B Reddy
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Posted in Publishaletter.com By :
Brig (Retd) G B Reddy
Letter to the Editor Sent to :
State Funding Election Unrealistic
Dear Editor: State Funding of Elections – Unrealistic Proposal Since early 1970s, quite a few experts, including the current Central Election Commissioner, have been advocating state funding of elections to reduce role of money power and one miniscule part of reforms. On reflection, it is a thoughtless, unimaginative and unrealistic proposal which does not merit consideration within the framework of democracy in practice today. If attempted, its fallout is bound to result in pauperization of the society and nation. Key data of state funding of elections are highlighted. One, state funding cannot be limited to elections to Lok Sabha or State Assemblies only. Even all other democratic institutions down to Panchayat Raj Institutions, Corporations, Municipal councils and so on will demand state funding. Furthermore, it is not possible to determine quantum of funding and fix uniform scales at all levels due to a variety of local conditions governing elections – size of constituency, population etc. The total numbers for state funding are quite incredible: 545 Lok Sabha MPs; 245 MPs Rajya Sabha; 4129 MLAs; MLCs; 641 Zilla Parishads; 5542 Mandal/Taluk/Block Samitis; and more than 2.4 lakh Gram Panchayats covering more than 5.8 lakh villages and nearly 99.6 per cent of rural population. Add to them, 3540 Urban Local Bodies like Corporations, Municipalities and Nagarpalikas with 68,554 seats. Multiply the above numbers with number of candidates standing for elections for various posts from an array of political parties - 6 National parties; 52 State level parties; and 1139 Registered unrecognized parties. Add to them, the number of independents and new political party entrants. The total may surpass 4 lakhs posts with around 40-50 candidates for each post. Delimitation of constituency’s is yet another significant issue. With the population set to reach over 1.85 billion by 2050 and growing urbanization forecasted, delimitation assumes importance. By extrapolation, the number of constitutency’s and wards will increase by over 30 per cent. Next, the issue of determining election expenditure is not easy. Election expenditures have been broadly categorized under two heads. The first type is election expenditure, which is allowed under the law for electioneering, subject to it being within the permissible limit. This would include expenditure connected on public meetings, posters, banners, vehicles, advertisements in print or electronic media etc. The second category of expenditure is on items which are not permitted under law. For example, distribution of money, liquor, or any other item to the electors with intent to influence them comes under the definition of bribery and is an offence under the IPC. The expenditure on such items is illegal. Yet another form of expenditure which is coming to the fore in recent times is on media surrogate advertising. There is no uniform rate of election expenditure. It varies from state to state: Rs 10 to 25 lakhs for MP candidates; and Rs. 5 to 10 lakhs for MLA candidates. Recently, the Odisha State Election Commission has raised the limit of poll expenditure from Rs. 30,000 to 60,000 at Panchayat level. The ceiling limits have been doubled for the zila parishad (district level) to Rs. 1.5 lakhs from the existing Rs.75,000/. In reality, the current monetary ceiling limits are quite farcical. Section 77(1) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 makes it mandatory for every candidate to the House of the People or a State Legislative Assembly to keep a separate and correct account of all expenditure incurred or authorized by him or by his election agent, between the date on which he was nominated and the date of declaration of the result of election, both dates inclusive. The total of the said expenditure shall not exceed such amount as may be prescribed under Section 77(3) of R.P. Act, 1951. Under Section 77(2), the account shall contain such particulars as may be prescribed. Rule 90 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 prescribes varying limits of election expenditure for Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies in each of the States and Union Territories. Particulars, which have to be shown in the account, are prescribed in Rule 86 of those Rules. The ceilings on expenditure as prescribed are enclosed at Annexure 1. Failure to maintain the account is an electoral offence under Section 171-I of the Indian Penal Code. According to Section 78 of ROP Act, 1951, every candidate is required to lodge a true copy of the account of his election expenses with the District Election Officer (DEO) within 30 days of the declaration of the result of the election. Failure to lodge the account of election expenses within the time and in the manner required by law without good reason or justification may result in disqualification of the candidate Every one is aware that use of money power has grown astronomically with candidates in some constituencies spending 15-30 crores for Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha seat. Even for the ‘Sarpanch” in Gram Panchayats around urban conglomerates, candidates spend 1-5 crores depending on real estate boom. Use of money power is inextricably linked to muscle power and freebies like liquor, laptops, Saris, etc. Under-reporting/hiding campaign expenses - nearly 6753 candidates officially declared expenditure varying between 45 to 55% of prescribed limit. 600 million rupees ($13.3m; £8.3m) in cash was seized in Tamil Nadu in the run-up to the state elections in April 2011. During the bye-elections to seven MLA seats, Rs.7 crores have been seized in Andhra Pradesh. Non-maintenance of statement of accounts by political parties is also quite common. Hardly, any action is taken against defaulting parties or individuals. In retrospect, Indian democracy is in a total mess. Its contours are in total disarray. Emerging social content and context is the root cause for all ills tormenting India’s democracy. Unless one understands dynamic transformations sweeping the Indian social context and content, one cannot prescribe the most appropriate type of democracy best suited for our society. Current electoral malpractices are breeding feudalist-cum-fascist factionists, dons, smugglers, extortionists, land grabbers and IT defaulters as leaders. When criminal’s breakthrough the back door of democracy, the true democrats flee from the front door or through whichever opening is available to them. If the engine of democracy is still running, credit should go to the inherited Hindu ethos of ‘Karma’ overpowering the collective psyche of the society. Time for episodic reforms is over. Either the engine needs replacement or overhaul. All other piecemeal initiatives can only further consolidate anarchy and chaos. Let there be no second thoughts that India’s dynamic societal flux warrants de novo holistic electoral reforms squarely addressing appropriateness of representative parliamentary democracy in its existing form. Like the 5-day cricket test match overtaken by the one day cricket and the T-20 limited over game threatening to rewrite everything before it, even the fundamentals of democracy requires major transformations. Neo rich and feudal cannot hijack democracy for their progeny any longer through cosmetic changes obfuscating the need for genuine reforms. No longer, traditionally deprived sections of society can be expected to lie low under fear. Arise they will due to growing awareness and raising expectations to stake for their fair share which democracy lends hope for them. Provoked by leaders in all fields suffering from deprivation psyche syndrome, people are taking to streets and indulging in hooliganism against the Society and the State. Viewed in such a holistic context, the proposal of state funding of elections is a thoughtless, unimaginative and unrealistic.
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