Tamil Nadu

Prevent brazen use of public funds for campaigning purposes, HC directs ECI

The Madras High Court on Tuesday said the Election Commission of India can put some 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 Election Commission of India (ECI) has sufficient authority to put checks and balances in place that allow a Minister or the like to enjoy the official status yet not spend government funds for campaigning or election purposes.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said, in an ideal world, there should certainly be a level playing field where the government functionaries do not use the perks and benefits of their office when they campaign for election purposes. Such exacting standards were met by many a politician once upon a time but they have gone out of fashion these days, the judges lamented while disposing of a public interest litigation petition.

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 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 candidates. The party alleged that these people end up misusing their public office during elections much to the disadvantage of 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.”

The court added, “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 the government funds are not brazenly used for campaigning purposes as is usually being indulged in at present.”

The judge said, “The Election Commission has sufficient authority to put checks and balances in place that allow a Minister or the like to enjoy the status 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 at election time but adopted as a perennial measure almost as a talisman to ward off the evil eye.”

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 shall deal with the petitioner’s representation for the future elections if not for the upcoming elections.”

ECI counsel Niranjan Rajagopalan brought it to the notice of the court that the model code of conduct prohibits ministers from making use of official machinery or personnel for electioneering work.

The code also states that the ministers should not combine their official visit with electioneering work. The Prime Minister alone had been exempted from the prohibition on combining official visit with electioneering visit, he said.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 11:32:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/prevent-brazen-use-of-public-funds-for-campaigning-purposes-hc-directs-eci/article34142614.ece

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