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'EC does not have a feeling of helplessness'

March 25, 2018 08:13 IST

'Even if something appears to be wrong, we can always request the government and Parliament to make amends.'

The 20 AAP MLAs, whose disqualification was struck down by the Delhi high court, with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia after the verdict. Photograph: Kind courtesy @AamAadmiParty/Twitter
IMAGE: The 20 AAP MLAs, whose disqualification was struck down by the Delhi high court on Friday, March 23, 2018, with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia after the verdict. Photograph: Kind courtesy @AamAadmiParty/Twitter

Two days before the Delhi high court announced its verdict on the disqualification of Aam Aadmi Party MLAs, Chief Election Commissioner O P Rawat, in a conversation with Sahil Makkar, said the Election Commission was not considering a similar complaint filed by the AAP against Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs in Madhya Pradesh.

 

The AAP made a similar complaint against Madhya Pradesh MLAs for holding office of profit. What is happening in the case?

The office of profit has a Constitutional and legal framework that stipulates that any such complaint must go to the President in case of Union Territories and Parliament.

In case of a state, the complaint must be registered with the governor.

Once they are convinced that a genuine question has arisen, which calls for the disqualification of a member of the assembly, they refer the matter to the EC for its opinion.

The EC can start an inquiry to formulate its opinion only when a matter is referred to it by the governor or President.

The law states that the EC's opinion is binding on governors or the President, as the case may be.

According to a Supreme Court ruling, the commission cannot begin action on its own in such cases.

It is also prohibited from forwarding such complaints to governors or the President.

In the case of Madhya Pradesh MLAs, no complaint has come to us from the governor, so the commission is not considering the matter.

It is said that EC's credibility has taken a beating in the current dispensation. How are you going to restore people's faith?

I don't agree with such allegations. There are so many factors.

The chief secretary (Gujarat) wrote to us that large-scale devastation had crippled the southern districts due to flood and relief measures were near completion. He had specified that relief work would suffer if elections were announced.

Whenever elections are announced, the district machinery immediately switches priority. This would have added to the sufferings of the affected people.

The commission took a conscience call -- it was okay if there was some criticism, but people's sufferings should be mitigated first.

The allegations are mainly raised because of an incomprehension of facts.

The Congress is now wanting to go back to ballot papers. How justified is the demand?

We do not want to pass any judgement on the demand. However, the commission is convinced that EVMs cannot be tempered with.

These have served their purpose very well and many ills of paper ballot have disappeared.

Booth capturing has become irrelevant as it takes a minute to cast a vote on EVMs, whereas the time required for ballot paper is a mere 15 seconds. We will make efforts to convince all stakeholders and clarify their doubts.

Russia is accused of meddling in the US elections, do you still think technology is the best answer?

Billions of rupees are transacted electronically every day. One does not abandon the transactions because of one or two frauds.

The advantages of technology is enormous and no country or individual would like to forgo them because of certain complaints.

Moreover, in the case of EVMs, the complaints were unfounded.

Are you prepared to hold general and the assembly elections simultaneously?

The process of amending the Constitution is long drawn. We will get to know once the ball starts rolling for such amendment.

Accordingly, we will ask for logistic support, money, manpower and resources.

Political parties absolved themselves from scrutiny of receiving foreign funding by passing an amendment to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act through the Finance Bill...

The EC has been time and again conveying its concerns about transparency and accountability in political funding to the government.

Even before the debate on electoral bonds started, we had written to the law ministry that the cash donation limit of Rs 20,000 should be brought down to Rs 2,000.

Political parties, in general, show more than 70 per cent accruals in cash received through anonymous sources.

As soon as the electoral bonds were introduced in the Finance Bill, 2017, we had flagged our concerns to the ministry and questioned the move to discontinue with the previous limit of 7.5 per cent of the company's average three-year net profit for political donation.

Despite your flagging the issues, the government went ahead and notified the changes.

We got a reply from the ministry that only the legal amendment has been carried out. The scheme is not yet formulated. So we kept silent.

The scheme was notified on January 2 and the first tranche of electoral bonds were issued between March 1 and 10.

Through a Lok Sabha question we came to know that Rs 2.2 billion worth of electoral bonds have been subscribed and these had to be encashed by political parties within 15 days. Our machinery is keeping an eye on all developments.

As soon as reports are received, we will examine to what extent our concerns about transparency and accountability have been addressed. The commission will then communicate with the government.

What can the EC do now as the Bill is already passed and electoral bonds have been subscribed?

The commission does not have a feeling of despondency or helplessness.

Even if something appears to be wrong, we can suggest and can always request the government and Parliament to make amends.

The expenditure division of the EC is seized of the amendments made to the FCRA Act. They will write to the commission and we will then take it up with the government.

Sahil Makkar
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