Recommending statutory backup to the Model Code of Conduct, a Parliamentary Committee has sought to take away certain powers vested with the Election Commission (EC) like de-recognising a political party.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in its 61st report on electoral reforms has also recommended that the Model Code of Conduct be enforced from the date of notification and not from the date of announcement of polls.
It sought revision in election expenditure limit of a candidate to make it more realistic and for setting up of fast-track courts to dispose of election disputes within a period of 12 months.
“The Committee strongly feels that it is expedient to enact law for giving statutory backup to Model Code of Conduct leaving no vacuum for ECI to exercise its power which is residuary in nature. The Committee recommends that provisions of Model Code of Conduct may be formed a part of Representation of People Act, 1951 or rules framed thereunder for free and fair elections in the country,” panel Chairman Shantaram Naik said.
“Nobody authorised the EC to create a law... It can only interpret a law and point it out. This concept has to be remembered,” he said pointing out to the powers vested with the poll panel under Article 324 of Constitution.
“The instructions/orders issued by Election Commission of India under Article 324 of the Constitution sometimes appears to be encroaching upon legislative power of Parliament. The Committee stresses upon the government that such instructions/ orders issued by Election Commission of India may be suitably incorporated in the Representation of People Act, 1951 or rules framed thereunder,” the Committee said.
The committee said persons other than members of the House should not be given powers to make application to disqualify an MLA or an MP and recommended reconsideration of different criteria provided to nominated and independent members under Tenth Schedule to join any political party in the same manner as in the case of nominated members.
It also recommended that valuation of assets be done at the cost of acquisition of such assets and sought simplification of nomination papers.
On making of Code of Conduct applicable from date of notification, Mr. Naik said elections these days are held in multiple phases where enforcement period of the code invariably exceeds the period of six weeks resulting in paralysing of developmental works.
The committee held that at present, in case nomination paper is rejected by a returning officer, the candidate has no option other than going to the high court after declaration of poll results through an election petition which takes years for the verdict to come.
“The committee has, therefore, recommended that the candidate may be provided an option of preferring an appeal against the decision of returning officer when his/her nominated paper is rejected,” the report said.
As election petitions take long time for disposal and in some cases they are not decided even when next election nears, “the committee is of the view that fast track courts be set up to dispose of election petition within period of 12 months.”
On derecognition of a party, the committee said, “When EC derecognises a party, it takes away its symbol also, thereby, in practice, de-registering a political party. Parliament has not given power to EC neither de-register or derecognise any political party.
The Committee, therefore, has recommended that Model Code of Conduct may be incorporated either in the Representation of People Act, 1951 or rules framed for conducting free and fair election.”
The panel said, “The Election Commission of India gives the impression that the Model Code of Conduct is voluntary in nature whereas most of its provisions especially paras 1,2,3 and 4 are relatable to statutes like Indian Penal Code, 1860 Criminal Code of Procedures, 1973 and Representation of People Act, 1951.
“Therefore, it is erroneous to say on the part of Election Commission of India that Model Code of Conduct is voluntary in nature,” Mr. Naik said.
The Election Commission on the ground that it has plenary powers under Article 324 of Constitution has inserted Para 16A in the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 to derecognise political parties in the event of violation of Model Code of Conduct or any of the instructions issued by the EC under Article 324 of the Constitution.
On surrogate advertisements give by some candidates in the form of news items in print media while attempting to escape the provisions of law, the committee recommended that such rules on ads containing in RP Act and rules may be enforced in letter and spirit.
“The Press Council of India may play an effective role in the enforcement of law by its member,” the panel said.
“Another important recommendation is to enhance election expenditure of the candidate in order to make it realistic. Rule 90 of Conduct of Election rules, 1961 may be periodically reviewed,” the report further said.
On the valuation of assets, the panel said, “Giving the current market rate of those properties by the candidate gives an impression that those properties has been acquired through unaccountable resources and sometimes the candidate fails to give reasonable explanation to media or people when questioned.”
“The Committee, is of the view that only the valuation of assets at the time when it was inherited or acquired by the candidates should be sought.”
Mr. Naik said on the issue of disqualification of elected members under the Tenth Schedule, Committee said Rules framed by the presiding officers of respective Houses under the Constitution should be duly respected.
It noted that while for nominated members a period of six months is provided to join any political party, independently elected candidates cannot join any political party without incurring his or her disqualification.