The Commission deferred the matter amid list of electoral reforms sent to government

Amid a variety of views doing the rounds on the need to ban opinion polls for the duration of the election process, the Election Commission is looking to leave it to the Centre to decide on the issue.

At present, the ban on displaying election material, including election survey results — under Section 126(1)(b) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 — applies only to the electronic media, cinematograph or other similar apparatuses and not to the print media.

Similarly, the ban on conducting or publicising an exit poll is valid from the commencement of poll hours for the first phase till the end of poll for the last phase.

The proposal to defer the matter to the government is part of a list of electoral reforms the EC has sent to the government.

At an all-party meeting in 2004, the EC had recommended placing some restriction on the publication of results of Opinion/Exit Polls. “Such a restriction would only be in the wider interests of free and fair elections”. Refuting the argument that dissemination of survey results was linked to right to information, the EC opined that election results have, in the past, differed vastly from the predictions made on the basis of exit polls: “Thus, the information claimed to be disseminated turned out to be disinformation in many cases.”

The EC recommended that there should be a restriction on publishing the results of such poll surveys for a specified period during the election process, as prevailed in many western democracies.

The all-party meeting was convened in April 2004 after the Supreme Court struck down the EC’s 1998 order issuing guidelines on regulating opinion and exit polls. The Supreme Court had then observed that the EC did not have the power to enforce the guidelines. Later, the guidelines were withdrawn.

It was decided by all members at the 2004 meeting that conducting of opinion polls and publishing of their results should be proscribed from the day of issue of notifications till the completion of the polls. Approached by the Law Ministry, the then Attorney-General of India Soli Sorabjee had said prohibition of publication of opinion/exit polls would be a breach of Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India.

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