EC needs more teeth, says Quraishi
Chandigarh February 6:
The Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi made an impassioned plea today for more powers to the Election Commission and more radical electoral reforms to ensure free and fair elections.
Addressing a regional consultation on electoral reforms here on Saturday, sponsored jointly by the Union Law Ministry and the EC, he said that it was time to ban all criminals, even those who are out on bail, from contesting elections. The Commission has already recommended to the Centre that if anyone is facing serious criminal charges like murder, rape and extortion and for which the punishment on conviction is five years of imprisonment or more, he/she should be barred from contesting the election during the pendency of the trial.
Admitting that false cases are sometimes filed against political opponents and disqualification of such a candidate from contesting the election could be unjust, the CEC maintained that this argument is flawed because undertrials too rot in prisons for years without any right to freedom of speech, movement or occupation and they get convicted after decades or so. There is no reason for criminals to enjoy political rights.
Pointing out that there are over 1200 political parties in the country, most of which are ‘just letterhead parties’, Quraishi made a forceful plea to the Centre to empower the Election Commission to de-register them. If the EC has the power to register a party, it should also have the right to de-register it, he argued. He did not agree with the Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’ssubmission that Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police should not be transferred six months before elections.
While Hooda claimed that such transfers would affect development work, the CEC reiterated that the Commission would have to remove ‘politically aligned’ bureaucrats to ensure free and fair elections. The six-month time, according to him, will help the new incumbents to settle down. The proposal on state funding of elections also did not find favour with the CEC, who apprehended that the provision would be misused by many political parties that exist only on paper. Such parties, he said, would corner funds without actually bringing down the use of money power in elections.
He added in a lighter vein that the proposal for state funding might find ready acceptance in Parliament, which had peremptorily enhanced the MPs’ salaries and perks by three-fold. The Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal took exception to this remark and said if bureaucrats, teachers and everyone else deserved higher pay, MPs too deserved it though they are primarily “social workers”.
The EC’s efforts in checking the paid news menace in the recent Bihar elections were lauded at the consultation. After it sent 86 notices in that state, candidates admitted they paid for news and included expenditure on paid news in their returns. But the biggest challenge for the EC is whether it can fight it out in the five states that will go for elections shortly - West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry.
The Chandigarh consultation, attended by the Law Minister M Veerappa Moily and Water Resources and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, was fifth in the series. There will be a national consultation in New Delhi on April 2 and 3, following which a ‘Vision report’ will be submitted to the government for implementation.