As the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government races to fend off the imminent freeze on key policy decisions, when the Election Commission’s (EC) Model Code of Conduct for political parties comes into force before the 2014 General Election, a slew of last-minute decisions by the Union Cabinet a week after both Houses of Parliament adjourned sine die , comes as no surprise. Most of the measures cleared by the Cabinet are part of a poll-eve image shoring-up exercise, while some of them may be a procedural necessity for any government in the last days of its tenure. Hiking the election expenditure limit incurred by a candidate for each parliamentary constituency to Rs.70 lakh from Rs.40 lakh for all the bigger States, should come as a big relief to most political parties facing both inflationary pressures and demands for greater transparency in poll-spending. At the all-party meeting recently convened by the EC to discuss this issue, only the Aam Aadmi Party is reported to have rejected the proposed hike on expenditure limits for both parliamentary and assembly constituencies, citing its 2013 ‘Delhi Assembly experiment’ of open accounting and spending.
Based on the broad consensus among most political parties, the EC had reportedly written to the Law Ministry to raise the cap on poll expenditure for each Lok Sabha and Assembly seat, factoring in “the cost inflation index, increase in number of electors and polling stations” among others. The EC also sought to bring the expenditure cap in the northeastern and hilly States on a par with those in the plains and proposed a limit of Rs.54 lakh for them including States such as Arunachal Pradesh, Goa and Sikkim, besides Union Territories such as Chandigarh and Puducherry. Those limits earlier ranged from Rs.22 lakh (for Goa) to Rs.35 lakh (for Manipur). In the case of each Assembly constituency, the limit has now been hiked to Rs.28 lakh in all the major States, while it will be Rs.20 lakh in the smaller States and some UTs including Puducherry. The last upward revision was effected in February 2011. Further, the Cabinet approving a minimum monthly pension entitlement of Rs.1,000 under the Employees Provident Fund Organisation’s Employees Pension Scheme, to benefit 28 lakh pensioners including five lakh widows, is calculated to strengthen its pro-welfare stance. The reaching out to the organised sector by enhancing dearness allowance for Central government employees, a golden handshake to staff of the sick Hindustan Photo Films, besides other regional sops like clearing a new rail coach manufacturing unit at Kolar in Karnataka, and provision of funds to support four new National Institutes of Design are also in tune with this eleventh hour give-away approach.