On the day it announced elections to assemblies in five states, the Election Commission, underlining its concerns over “the increasing role of money power” in polls, sought a Supreme Court order to make it imperative for candidates to also disclose sources of their income and the income of their spouses and dependent children in their affidavits.
Submitting its reply Wednesday to a notice by the Supreme Court on a PIL, the Commission also said that the Representation of the People Act must be amended to make sure that a candidate is disqualified not only when he has an existing contract with the government but also when any member of his family has a similar financial agreement. For the purposes of the election law, the poll panel said, candidates should have the same yardsticks of uprightness that public servants are bound under service jurisprudence.
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In its counter affidavit, the Commission said it has become necessary to not just have details of total assets of the candidates in their poll affidavits but also to make them disclose their sources of income, besides assets and sources of assets of their spouses and children. This, the panel said, would let the voters know whether the rise in assets of candidates is reasonable and from known sources of income.
Advocating pertinent amendments to the RP Act, the Commission said: “The existing format of the poll affidavit does not give any information in respect of the sources of income of the candidate and his family members to enable the electors to form an informed choice as to whether the increase of the income of the candidate from the previous election is reasonable or not.”
The affidavit pointed out that the present format on disclosure only allows the voters to have the PAN (permanent account number) details of the candidates, his spouse and his dependents but no other details. This lacuna, the Commission contended, denuded the voters of an informed right to choose, which the Supreme Court has sought to enforce by a string of directives in the past.
Supporting the plea made by Lucknow-based NGO Lok Prahari, the Commission said that information about sources of income of candidates, their spouses and dependents will be a step in the direction of enhancing transparency and that it should form part of declaration by the candidates. In this regard, it had already written a letter to the Law Ministry last September.
Emphasising that use of money power in polls has been posing grave dangers to the democratic polity, the Commission regretted that it had to, for the first time in India’s electoral history, rescind the notification and conduct polls afresh in two Tamil Nadu assembly seats following evidence of money being used to influence voters.
“The increasing role of money power in elections is too well known and is one of the maladies which sometimes reduces the process of election into a mere farce by placing some privileged candidates with financial resources in a distinctly advantageous position as compared to other candidates. The result of such an election cannot reflect the true choice of the people. The system also sometimes deprives qualified and able persons the prerogative to represent masses,” the affidavit stated.
Besides, the Commission said, “It is desirable to include the act of filing false affidavits as offence in the list of corrupt practice under Section 123 of the RP Act in order to provide effective deterrent.” This stand, it pointed out, has already been endorsed by the Law Commission in its 244th report.
On Section 9A in the RP Act, the Commission said it has proposed an amendment in the provision on the lines of the Central Civil Services Rules under the Department of Personnel and Training so that it takes into the ambit of disqualification all contracts entered by candidates as well as his immediate family members and such financial arrangements must be ceded before a candidate fights poll.
“The EC beseeches this Hon’ble Court to pass appropriate directions, which may be in furtherance of eradicating electoral malpractices,” the affidavit stated. The Central government has sought six weeks to respond and the court will now take up the issue next month.