Chief Election Commissioner Dr Nasim Zaidi stated that a multi-dimensional approach needs to be taken to curb the misuse of money power in elections. He said that we should formulate a strong anti-bribery law or legal framework, there should be strict enforcement on the ground and lastly, ethical voting practices need to be inculcated by voters.
Inaugurating the 13th annual conference of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) at Panjab University, Chandigarh, he deplored that the use of money in the poll process has increased significantly. He said that the Election Commission of India (ECI) seized over Rs 350 crores during the recently concluded five state Assembly elections which was three times higher than what was seized in the 2012 Assembly elections. He expressed grave concern on this issue and mentioned that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

He said that the ECI has completed a study on data needs of the Commission and an analytics roadmap has been prepared based on best practices adopted by several leading electoral management bodies. This roadmap is likely to be implemented in one year time frame and this will integrate all kinds of databases in the Commission. He laid strong emphasis on data presentation and visual analytics in the friendliest manner possible.

Dr Zaidi said that the ECI has made recommendations to the Law Ministry to amend the RP Act and to insert a new section 58B, which would empower the Commission to countermand elections based on credible evidence relating to widespread bribery. Although, the Law Ministry has disagreed thrice with this proposal in the last one year, the Commission is constantly pushing the need to be empowered on the lines of Section 58 of RP Act which deals with countermanding of elections due to booth capturing. The CEC has also proposed that bribing of voters should also be made a cognizable offence.

The CEC observed that there has been steep rise in the assets of the candidates seeking re-election and that the electors have every right to know the causes behind this sharp increase in assets. An important development which has taken place is that the ECI has recommended the amendment of Form 26, where they would be required to add a column for declaring the details of sources of income of candidates and their spouses.

Dr Zaidi also mentioned that they have been formulating policy to make sure that there is transparency in declaration by candidates on any disqualifications at the time of their nominations. The Commission has earlier seen instances where the candidates did not declare their disqualifications at the time of nomination. The ECI has amended the rules to include declaration of disqualifications in nomination forms as mandatory. This includes holding of office of profit, insolvency, allegiance to a foreign country and any disqualifications incurred under Section 8A of RP Act. This also includes grounds of corruption and most importantly any substantive contracts with the government which the candidate might not have disclosed at the time of filing their nomination papers.

Dr Zaidi said that the political parties under the current legal framework are loosely governed, be it registration, funding, expenditure etc. Regarding election financing, he said that it should rest on four pillars: 1) Laying down the expenditure limit of candidates and also of political parties, 2) Disclosure requirements for more transparency, 3) Compliance of disclosure requirements and 4) Penalties for non-adherence.

The CEC also expressed concern, the way few recent electoral reforms have been introduced in the past few months by the government. He said that by not reducing the limit of anonymity from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2000, the transparency has not been brought about. He also stated that if the contribution has been made in the form of electoral bonds, it would not be a part of the contributions report of the political parties. This is a retrograde step which will enhance opacity in political party funding.

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