Prevent brazen use of public funds for campaigning, HC

Madras High Court. File  

The Madras High Court on Tuesday said the Election Commission of India (ECI) can put guidelines in place to ensure that public funds are not brazenly used by Ministers for campaigning purposes. “as is usually being indulged in at present”. It observed that the ECI had sufficient authority to put in place checks and balances allowing Ministers and the like to enjoy their official status while preventing them from spending government funds for campaigning or election purposes.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said that in an ideal world, there should be a level-playing field so that government functionaries don’t use the perks and benefits of their office while campaigning for elections.

“Such standards were met by many a politician once upon a time, but are out of fashion these days,” the judges said, while disposing of a public interest litigation petition.

The Ahimsa Socialist Party, represented by its president, T. Ramesh alias Gandhian Ramesh, had filed the PIL petition seeking a direction to the ECI to consider the representations made to it to prohibit Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and all others holding public office from campaigning on behalf of their party’s candidates. The party alleged that these people end up misusing their public office during elections, much to the disadvantage of the other candidates in the fray.

Concurring with the sentiments expressed by the petitioner party, the first Division Bench said, “There are also other considerations which come into play in the modern world. There are security concerns. Thus, even though a Minister may be willing to shed his official bandobast to attend a rally merely as a politician, the very status of the Minister and the requirement to give him security cover may not permit the freedom that would be required for the purpose.”

“This goes more so with higher officials like Chief Ministers and those holding Cabinet positions at the Centre. To such extent, the petitioner’s idealism may be slightly out of place. However, a strict Election Commission can, nonetheless, put some guidelines in place, in addition to the existing guidelines indicated in the model code, at least to ensure that government funds are not brazenly used for campaigning purposes as is usually being indulged in at present,” the judges added.

“The Election Commission of India has sufficient authority to put checks and balances in place that allow a Minister or the like to enjoy their status and yet not spend official funds for campaigning or election purposes. However, the malaise is now deep-rooted. One has to wear allegiance to a political leader, if not on the sleeve, at least visibly crying out of the pocket. And these are not only in election time but adopted as a perennial measure almost as a talisman to ward off the evil eye,” the court observed.

Finding some force in the arguments advanced by the petitioner’s counsel, T. Sivagnanasambandan, the judges said, “For whatever it is worth, the Election Commission of India shall deal with the petitioner’s representation for future elections, if not for the upcoming elections.”

ECI counsel Niranjan Rajagopalan brought to the notice of the court that the model code of conduct prohibited Ministers from making use of official machinery or personnel for electioneering. “The code also states that Ministers should not combine their official visits with electioneering. The Prime Minister alone has been exempted from this.”

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 6:34:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Tiruchirapalli/prevent-brazen-use-of-public-funds-for-campaigning-hc/article34146676.ece

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