At a time when there has been a hue and cry over the use of black money for the election campaigns of politicians, on February 23, the Union law ministry quietly issued a notification increasing the maximum limit on expenses that can be legally incurred by candidates standing for elections by a substantial 60 percent.
In Lok Sabha constituencies in most states, the maximum amount that can be legally spent by a candidate has gone up from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 40 lakh while in most state assembly constituencies, the limit has been increased from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 16 lakh.
Whereas the legislative department of the ministry of law and justice in its notification dated February 23, has not cited any reason for increasing the expenditure limit, there have been demands from different sections that the old limits were 'unrealistically low' and that the low limits encouraged illegal expenditure on election campaigns by politicians.
The ministry's notification amending the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, which are implemented by the Election Commission of India under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, will come into effect as soon as it is published in the Gazette of India.
The expenditure limits under the Conduct of Election Rules were last amended on May 8, 2007.
The limits on expenditure incurred for candidates standing for Lok Sabha elections have been upped from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 40 lakh in the states Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Punjab, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.
In most of these states, the limit on expenses that can be legally incurred by a candidate contesting assembly elections has gone up Rs 10 lakh to Rs 16 lakh.
In Puducherry and Mizoram, the limit has gone from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 32 lakh for Lok Sabha elections and from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 8 lakh in the case of assembly elections.
In states or Union territories such as Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, the limit has been increase from Rs 17 lakh to Rs 27 lakh in the case of Lok Sabha elections and from Rs 6 lakh to Rs 10 lakh for assembly elections.
The limit in the case of a state like Goa and the Union territory of Chandigarh, the limit is up from Rs 14 lakh to Rs 22 lakh for Lok Sabha polls and from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 8 lakh for assembly elections.
In the Union territories of Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu, the limit for Lok Sabha elections has gone from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 16 lakh.
There are no limits on expenses that can be incurred by political parties on candidates of their choice. Friends and associates of a candidate can spend unlimited amounts on behalf of a candidate without the consent of the latter.
Whereas inflation could be a factor to justify the increase in the limit on expenses incurred on elections, whether this measure will curb illegal expenditure on elections remains to be seen.