There is a legal lacuna in dealing with the growing menace of ‘paid news’ in the Indian elections and there is a need to make it an offence under the electoral law, says Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath.
“There is need to make paid news an electoral offence under the Representation of the People Act. The Commission’s proposals are before the Law Ministry in this regard,” he told PTI in an interview in which he analyses various significant features of the general elections and the steps it took to complete the mammoth exercise in a free and fair manner.
He is relieved at the fact the Election Commission has been able to “successfully complete” the 16th Lok Sabha elections and high voting percentage.
Sampath said compared to last Lok Sabha polls, the Commission adopted a structured response to the menace this elections.
“We had committees at the district level and state level to keep vigilance for detection of paid news. Notices were served in over 3,000 cases of paid news of which 7,000 have been confirmed. But because of the lacuna in the legal framework we are able to deal with paid news only from expenditure angle as of now,” he said.
In an unprecedented action, a woman MLA from Badaun in UP was disqualified by the Election Commission a few years ago on the basis of a Press Council finding into a case of paid news complaint against her after it was detected that she had not disclosed the expenditure on paid news in her statement of expenses in the elections.
Compared to last time, Sampath said, over 120 million voters had exercised their franchise, taking the overall numbers to the highest-ever participation in elections since Independence.
The participation of women has also been noteworthy and praiseworthy. Their participation is relatively higher in proportion when compared to men. It reached an all-time high in proportion, he said.
There has been significant increases in participation in the Left Wing Extremism affected states like Chattisgarh and Jharkhand.
On complaints of booth capturing in West Bengal, Sampath conceded that there have been complaints of political parties about malpractices on the polling day in the state in the later phases of the 5-phased polls in some areas.
“There is a tendency to compare security arrangements of central forces in isolated state elections with national elections. For example, in a state assembly election in West Bengal, we can provide 100 per cent central forces for coverage in all polling stations, while it is not possible to provide that kind of deployment of central para-military forces where West Bengal elections are part of national elections,” said Sampath.
About the general perception that the 16th Lok Sabha elections were the longest in duration, Sampath said it was a misnomer to term them as nine-phased elections.
“In fact, the length of the poll should be judged by the number of days of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). That is from the date of the announcement of the polls to the date of counting of votes. It is actually nine polling days in which there were polling days between April 7 and 12. You can’t have phases in 5 days. Therefore, it is, in effect, a 6-phased elections,” said Sampath.