The Election Commission of India’s (EC) proposal that political parties disclose the financial ramifications of promises in their manifestos was not linked to the recent debate on freebies, but was aimed at improving the implementation of existing guidelines, a top EC official said on Wednesday.
The EC had on Tuesday written to the heads of recognised national and State parties to seek their views on its proposal that parties provide details of the cost and impact of promises they make during polls.
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While the Model Code of Conduct guidelines already require parties to explain the rationale behind their promises, the declarations did not provide adequate information, the EC’s letter said. Instead, the EC proposed a format for the parties to declare the information, including the extent of coverage of a promise, the cost to the exchequer, the ways in which it would be paid for and the implications for the State or Union government’s finances. In addition, the EC proforma would also include details of the State or Union government’s receipts and expenditure that would be filled out by the Chief Secretary or Union Finance Secretary.
A day after the EC wrote its letter, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) hit out against it, terming it an “unwarranted move”, in a statement. The EC had recently declined to be a part of a committee to examine the issue of freebies as proposed by the Supreme Court, which was hearing a Public Interest Litigation seeking regulation of freebies announced by parties. In July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that “ revadi culture” or offering freebies was dangerous for the development of the country had stoked debate.
“The Election Commission had, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court in April, stated that the Commission cannot regulate policy decisions of political parties and that it would be an overreach of its powers. It is surprising that the Election Commission has now taken a contrary stand. Is this due to pressure being exercised by the executive?” the CPI(M) asked.
Reacting to the development, Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal said in a tweet on Wednesday that the EC may need a Model Code of Conduct (MCC) itself.
"Election Commission does a u-turn after filing affidavit in Supreme Court that it will stay out on freebie debate. Would amount to overreach. Now wishes to include it in the Model Code of Conduct. Maybe EC itself needs a Model Code of Conduct!" Mr. Sibal tweeted.
The top EC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the proposed addition to the MCC had been in the works for some time, with the pro forma to be filled by parties taking a month to be drafted. The decision to write to the parties was taken at a meeting last week of the Commission, comprising Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar and Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey, another source said.
“The two issues are fundamentally different, legally and principally. One is defining freebies and regulating them by legislation or court directions. The other is only on disclosure and does not need a new law or court order, and does not affect the political parties’ right to announce what they consider appropriate,” the top EC official said.
Not only would parties be required to fill in the proforma, States and Union governments would provide information on the receipts and expenditure, which would bring “the government’s fiscal health into the political discourse”, the official said.