March 12, 2014 12:42:55 am
Mindful of the sharp divide over the Election Commission’s demand for a ban on opinion polls during elections, the Union Ministry of Law and Justice has asked the poll panel to use its Constitutional powers to do the same.
Sources in the Election Commission told The Indian Express that a formal communication by a functionary of the Legislative Department on Monday asked the poll regulator to “consider exercising powers vested in it under Article 324 of the Constitution” to issue “suitable instructions” to ban opinion polls.
The letter received by the Election Commission said that since the matter of ban on opinion polls is part of the entire gamut of electoral reforms, a matter pending with the Law Commission of India, any action by the government in this regard would be possible only after the Law Commission submits its report after consultations with the various stakeholders.
“We will examine the letter and take a suitable decision. However, the possibility of the Election Commission issuing any order banning opinion polls at this stage — when the process for the Lok Sabha elections is already underway — seems bleak. But a final call will be taken by the full Commission only,” said a senior Election Commission functionary.
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On February 28, after a TV channel broadcast a sting showing some companies which conduct opinion polls during elections agreeing to fix opinion polls to favour chosen political parties, the Election Commission had written to the Law Ministry, seeking “necessary action” on its earlier proposal to ban opinion polls.
The Congress had approached the Election Commission with a complaint based on the sting operation and sought a ban on opinion polls, following which the Election Commission wrote to the Law Ministry.
Incidentally, in 1999, the Election Commission had issued guidelines banning publication and telecast of the results of opinion polls. However, the guidelines were withdrawn by the Election Commission after its decision came under attack from supporters of freedom of speech and expression. While a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court was also seized of the Constitutionality of the guidelines, the matter was dropped without any decision about this aspect after the Election Commission told the court about its decision to withdraw the guidelines.
When asked how, if Election Commission’s decision to ban opinion polls was questionable in 1999, would the same stand a possible judicial scrutiny now, a senior Law Ministry functionary said, “Over 15 years have passed since then. Moreover, the Supreme Court didn’t adjudicate the issue of Constitutionality or otherwise of the ban on opinion polls. Even the Attorney General has given a legal opinion saying a ban on opinion polls during elections is constitutionally permissible.”
Last year, the Election Commission had written to the government, seeking amendment to the law to allow banning of opinion polls once the election process begins. The EC communication also said that exit polls are banned till completion of polling, since parliament passed the Representation of the People (Second Amendment) Bill in 2009.
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