THE Law Ministry has shot down the Election Commission’s proposal seeking permanent legal powers to cancel elections in case there is credible evidence of voters being bribed.
The government’s rejection was communicated to the EC through a letter dated September 26, less than two months before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shock ban on 500 and 1,000 rupee notes to check illicit money. Modi had also referred to the debate on the role of black money in elections in his televised address to the nation on November 8, while announcing the surprise move. Unaccounted cash is perceived to be the lifeblood for political parties during election season. It is spent on staging rallies and bribing voters.
As reported by The Indian Express on June 6, the Commission had sent a proposal seeking an amendment to Section 58A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which empowers the election watchdog to adjourn or cancel elections in case of booth-capturing. The EC had sought the insertion of a new section, 58B, to enable it to take similar action if voters of a constituency are bribed by political parties.
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The Law Ministry, however, shot down the request, saying booth-capturing and bribery are not comparable.
“It may not be advisable to compare booth capturing with allegations of bribery of voters since the circumstances are incomparable. Allegations of bribery is always a matter of investigation and proof. Besides, the Commission has been dealing with such situations in the past under powers vested in the Article 324 of the Constitution. Therefore it may be desirable to maintain status quo,” said the letter written by K K Saxena, Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Law and Justice.
According to sources, the EC is not convinced and will write again to the government to push for the amendment to the Act. “The ministry has said that bribery is a matter of investigation and proof and, hence, not comparable to booth-capturing. Is booth-capturing not a matter of investigation and proof?” said an EC source, who did not wish to be identified.
“The fact is that black money and its misuse in elections has a serious vitiating effect on conduct of free and fair elections. Moreover, their suggestion to use Article 324 to deal with such incidents is also not acceptable. These are extraordinary powers, which should be used sparingly and not to counter a common malpractice like bribery,” the source said.
The EC last resorted to its powers under Article 324 this year to cancel elections to two Tamil Nadu Assembly seats, Aravakurichi and Thanjavur, on grounds of voters being bribed with money during campaigning.
According to the Commission, the total seizures from the two Tamil Nadu constituencies, where elections stand cancelled, amounted to Rs 7.12 crore in cash, 429.24 litres of liquor and 33.256 kg of silver worth Rs 9 lakh at Aravakurichi, and Rs 75,20,850 cash and 2,145.12 litres of liquor at Thanjavur constituency, apart from one lakh saris and dhotis each by the two parties.
Apart from this, AIADMK candidates are alleged to have gifted Rs 5 lakh-Rs 50 lakh to villages and residential localities to renovate temples. The EC also referred to the use of means such as distribution of tokens to families to purchase home appliances after the polls. Overall, in Tamil Nadu over Rs 200 crore was seized by the poll panel at various places making it the largest haul of election money in an Assembly poll.
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