The Centre on Wednesday said it was planning a comprehensive bill on electoral reforms and sought political consensus for the same. It also expressed concern over misuse of money and entry of criminal elements in the electoral process. “Change is needed in the electoral system…we need to bring about comprehensive reforms. We not only need political consensus for it, but also a massive national consultation to remove anomalies in the electoral system,” Law Minister Veerappa Moily said in the Rajya Sabha while replying to the debate on Representation of the People (Second Amendment) Bill 2008.

The Bill, which was passed in the Rajya Sabha, envisages raising of security deposit amount – from Rs.10,000 to Rs.25,000 for general candidates contesting Lok Sabha elections, and from Rs.5,000 to Rs.10,000 for Assembly elections — to prevent non-serious candidates from contesting elections. However, for SC and ST candidates, the deposit amount would be hiked to Rs.12, 500 against current Rs.5, 000 in Lok Sabha elections and Rs.5, 000 from Rs.2, 500 for Assembly elections.

Mr. Moily said misuse of money was becoming a ‘cancer’ in Indian electoral system, which may put democracy in peril. He also sought political consensus on barring those with criminal records from contenting elections. The government was also in favour of bringing a bill to facilitate voting rights to Indian citizens living or working abroad, he said. The Law Minister ruled out any technical problem or scope of manipulation in electronic voting machines.

On MPs’ demand to ban exit polls, Mr. Moily said these have been banned in many developed countries the world and called for an open debate on the issue. He also pointed out towards surrogate advertising through print media by parties and sought a check on such practices. On Women’s Reservation Bill, Mr. Moily said the government was keen on tabling and passing of the Bill in the current session itself. “It is still pending with the concerned standing committee. If it finalises the Bill and gives it to us, we will not stop it. The government will ensure that it gets passed.”

Earlier taking part in the debate, D. Raja of Communist Party of India demanded implementation of recommendations of Indrajit Gupta Committee report on electoral reforms and asked the media to follow its own code on exit polls so that it does not influence the minds of voters. A. Vijayaraghavan of CPI (M) suggested that the election expenditure should be incurred by the government to curb misuse of money, while K. Malaisamy of AIADMK wanted a check on misuse of official machinery by State governments during elections. Rashid Alvi of the Congress demanded proportional representation in elections.

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