Express Exclusive: Secret note blows cover of govt move to shackle Election Commission

In denial: Govt denies The Indian Express report but agenda note of GoM confirms it.

Written by Maneesh Chhibber | New Delhi | Published:February 22, 2012 3:00 am

A day after The Indian Express reported that the government was seeking to give statutory backing to the model code of conduct,three cabinet ministers separately denied the move and the government issued a release saying the report was “totally misconceived”.

The agenda note for the meeting of the group of ministers (GoM) on corruption scheduled for tomorrow,however,shows otherwise.

The note (see facsimile of extract alongside),marked,‘Secret,’ says that the secretary,legislative department,has been asked to report to the GoM the “progress” made in the matter of giving “statutory shape” to the “executive instructions of the Election Commission of India”.

The Indian Express had reported the contents of the note on Tuesday. If the government’s move is carried through,violations of the model code of conduct will be out of the purview of the EC,and will be tried in courts. Speaking to The Indian Express,Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi had said that the move could be “aimed at curbing the powers of the Election Commission”.

Union ministers Salman Khurshid and Beni Prasad Verma have had recent faceoffs with the commission over alleged violations of the model code of conduct.

Reacting to The Indian Express report,Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee,who heads the GoM on corruption,told reporters in Delhi today: “From where this idea (that the government wants to provide statutory backing to the model code) has come? But on the GoM agenda there is nothing.”

Law Minister Khurshid made the same claim. “There is no such thing on the agenda to my knowledge,” Khurshid was quoted as saying in Delhi by PTI. “But if it is raised by any political party during the course of discussion,we will take it as and when it happens,” he said.

In Lucknow,Telecom and HRD Minister Kapil Sibal,also a member of the GoM,said he did not know the agenda for the GoM meeting.

“I am on the GoM but I am not aware of the agenda. It so happens that bureaucracy makes certain proposals and sometimes we discuss them while at others we reject them,” he said.

In the evening,the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) issued a release saying the contents of the report published today were “totally misconceived”.

The release said,“…There is no such move under contemplation of the Government or the Group of Ministers… The GoM has not made any recommendation to make the Model Code of Conduct statutory or to take it outside the purview of the Commission.”

But the ‘Agenda Note for the 7th meeting of GoM [on 22.2.2012 at 1300 hrs’ circulated to members of the group,clearly states the proposal to take the model code of conduct out of the EC’s purview.

Page 3 of the note says,under the head ‘Term of Reference (ii)(a): State Funding of Elections’,“…The Chairman was (also) of the view (at the September 30 meeting of the GoM) that ‘Code of Conduct’ was one of the biggest excuses to stall development projects,and thus agreed with the request of the Law Minister to flag this issue and its inclusion in the agenda papers. It was also suggested that the Legislative Department may also look into the aspects where executive instructions of the Election Commission of India were required to be given statutory shape. Accordingly,Secretary,Legislative Department,has been requested to make a presentation before the GoM on the progress made in the matter.”

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