Private member’s bill urges state poll funding

Seeks lifting of the present candidate expenditure limit of ₹70 lakh

Published - July 26, 2019 10:40 pm IST - New Delhi

Congress member M.V. Rajeev Gowda speaks in the Rajya Sabha on July 26, 2019. Photo: RSTV

Congress member M.V. Rajeev Gowda speaks in the Rajya Sabha on July 26, 2019. Photo: RSTV

Equating the expenditure limit on election expenses with prohibition, Congress MP Rajeev Gowda on Friday moved a private member’s bill in the Rajya Sabha that seeks removal of the limit and state funding of elections as part of reforms to the way polls are financed in India.

Asserting that the limit was counter productive and only helped those with black money to bribe individual voters and crippled honest candidates, Mr. Gowda mooted The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, makes two key proposals. One, the current per candidate expenditure limit of ₹70 lakh should be lifted and two, there should be state funding to ensure a “cleaner polity”, which is a public good.

“The problem is idealistic laws, which like the prohibition have been counter productive,” Mr. Gowda said, introducing his Bill in the Rajya Sabha. “The actual expenditures are driven underground. Who does this help? Those with black money. It sets in motion a vicious cycle,” he contended, adding that once elected, the representatives try to reward those who contributed to their victory.

Qouting former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who had said that “All MPs start their parliamentary careers with a lie,” Mr. Gowda said that the former PM was referring to MPs typically under-declaring how much they had spent on their elections. “Telling the truth would result in disqualification under the current law,” Mr. Gowda said.

Mr. Gowda argued that instead of imposing a limit, transparency should be brought in. “Let sunlight be the best disinfectant,” he said. All the expenses should be put in the public domain.

The candidates should be allowed to legitimately raise funds. “Candidates who can raise white money openly cannot spend more than ₹70 lakh in parliamentary elections. Hence, compared to those who spend money covertly, clean politicians are crippled by the system,” he asserted. An amount of ₹70 lakh was not enough even to send postcards to 20 lakh odd voters in each constituency, he argued.

Contending that to be a politician one needed resources, Mr. Gowda said political parties too need resources and the country simply refused to recognise the amount of money spent in elections. A politician’s worth was often decided by how deep their pockets and how fat their wallets were.

Asserting that the only way to cleanse the system was to ensure state funding, Mr. Gowda proposed a National Election Fund, under which each political party could be allotted funds according to their recent electoral performance. “Cleaner polity is a public good,” he argued.

On Friday, the house initiated a debate on the Bill that is expected to conclude next week on Friday, when the Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad would give his reply.

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