In a move that is bound to generate controversy, the election expenditure for both parliamentary and assembly constituencies is likely to jump by one-and-a-half times before the coming Lok Sabha polls. Anita Katyal reports
The Election Commission of India is said to be in the process of finalising a proposal to increase expenditure levels for candidates following persistent demands from political parties, top United Progressive Alliance sources told rediff.com. It will then send its recommendation to the Union law ministry for the final approval and notification.
Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath had told media persons in the course of last year’s Karnataka elections that the EC was not inclined to review the maximum poll expenditure as it felt the current prescribed limit was adequate.
However, it appears to have changed its stand as political parties have petitioned the commission that the maximum limit on expenses for candidate should be enhanced to take into increased expenditure due to inflation.
The maximum limit on poll expenditure was last enhanced by 60 per cent in 2011 after six years. The limit for a parliamentary constituency was raised to Rs 40 lakh from Rs 25 lakh, while the maximum expenses for an assembly constituency was revised to Rs 16 lakh from Rs 10 lakh in all major states such as 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.
The limit of poll expenses is fixed on the basis of the size of a state and several other factors.
For instance, the maximum limit is currently pegged at Rs 40 lakh and Rs 14 lakh for a parliamentary and assembly constituency respectively, while the expenditure limit in Puducherry is fixed at Rs 33 lakh (parliamentary constituency) and Rs 8 lakh (assembly constituency).
If the EC’s latest proposal is accepted, the maximum limit for a parliamentary constituency in Delhi would now be hiked to Rs 1 crore while a candidate contesting in a parliamentary constituency in Puducherry will be able to incur an expenditure of nearly Rs 82 lakh.
This recommendation is bound to generate a fresh round of controversy in the backdrop of the ongoing raging debate over the role of money power in elections. Critics are bound to point out that this will favour the bigger political parties and put the smaller ones at a disadvantage.
This was one of the issues flagged by the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party in the recent Delhi assembly elections. The debutant political party had brought about transparency in its fund collection and expenditure by putting all the details in the public domain.
It also demonstrated that it was possible to contest an election within the prescribed limit laid down by the EC.
On the flip side, political parties have argued that the current expenditure limits were not realistic and these actually encouraged the use of black money in elections.
While the EC has put a cap on the expenses incurred by a candidate, there are no limits on the money spent by political parties and a candidate’s friends.
According to an EC official document, the incurring or authorising of expenditure in excess of the limit prescribed under Section 77(3) of the ROP Act, 1951 is a corrupt practice with reference to Section 123(6) of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951.
The reasons for this was elucidated by the Supreme Court in a 1975 case as follows: “The object of the provision limiting the expenditure is two fold. In the first place, it should be open to any individual or any political party, howsoever small, to be able to contest an election on a footing of equality with any other individual or political party, howsoever rich and well financed it may be, and no individual or political party should be able to secure an advantage over others by virtue of its superior financial strength….”
“The other objective of limiting the expenditure is to eliminate, as far as possible, the influence of big money in the electoral process. If there was no limit on expenditure, political parties would go all out for collecting contributions… The pernicious influence of big money would then play a decisive role in controlling the democratic process in the country,” it said.
Image: A tableau representing the Election Commission/Parliament is displayed during the 63rd Republic Day parade in New Delhi January 26, 2012. Photograph: Reuters