The Election Commission (EC) has proposed a 10 per cent increase in the campaign expenditure limit for all future elections given the constraints posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, The Indian Express has learnt.
The Law Ministry, sources said, received a proposal from the EC last week on amending Rule 90 of the Conduct of Election Rules 1961 to raise the expenditure cap ahead of the Assembly elections in Bihar.
The current ceiling for state polls in Bihar is Rs 28 lakh. This will increase to Rs 30.8 lakh once the Law Ministry accepts the proposal and notifies the change. The last hike in the expenditure ceiling was effected before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
According to government sources, the EC has argued that campaigning during a pandemic will be challenging for candidates. In order to follow the EC’s restrictions on rallies and meetings, candidates will end up with more small gatherings to avoid crowding, which will lead to added expenditure.
Last month, the EC issued a special set of guidelines for campaigning amidst a pandemic. For instance, for candidates, the EC capped the size of the campaign squad to three people for door-to-door visits and allowed just five cars, instead of 10, in a candidate’s convoy for roadshows. Only two people can accompany a candidate for filing of nomination papers, while the number of attendees at a rally or gathering cannot exceed “the limit prescribed by State Disaster Management Authority for public gatherings”.
The EC’s proposal comes after the BJP, in its feedback to the poll panel, recently suggested that the expenditure ceiling for candidates be raised to accommodate the spending on masks, soap, PPE kits and thermal screening during campaigning amid the pandemic. Alternatively, it had said, such expenditure should be added to the party’s account and not the candidate’s.
Although the constraints posed by the pandemic is the EC’s immediate argument for enhancing the limit, the change will remain in effect for all future elections even after the pandemic is over.
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The current expenditure limit for state and Parliament elections differs from state to state. In case of Lok Sabha elections, a candidate can spend between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 70 lakh, depending on the state they are contesting from.