• Tuesday, July 29, 2014

News Analysis

2 ECs starkly different

Pallab Bhattacharya with Shakhawat Liton

Actions speak louder than words. The Indian Election Commission has once again proved this adage true by launching a crackdown on black money and compelling the West Bengal government to agree to its move to transfer some officials.
These two latest incidents are glaring examples how the EC has been taking control over the administration to ensure free and fair elections.
This is why electoral experts in Bangladesh frequently cite the Indian EC as an example and desire to have such a strong EC here.
In both countries, the commissions are constitutionally independent in discharging their functions.  
In India, the world's largest democracy, there has always been a ban on the use of money power by political parties to induce and influence voters.
This time, in their efforts to curb the use of black money and illegal funds in the elections, EC teams have seized over Rs 195 crore in cash from all over the country so far -- Rs 118 crore in southern state of Andhra Pradesh alone.
The EC has deployed several teams of its officials, specially trained to track money trails, and revenue officers across the country to keep a hawk's eye on the movement of funds.
The EC officials also seized 26.56 lakh litres of liquor and 70 kg of heroin and 11,469 first information reports have been registered against distribution of cash and illegal inducements during campaigning for the general elections.

The EC has deployed 659 officers drawn from the central revenue services like the Income Tax and Customs and Excise departments, in all 543 parliamentary constituencies and state legislature seats where polling will be held over the next 35 days. They have been reporting cash seizures since the poll schedule was announced on March 5.
According to official data till Monday, Election Expenditure Observers had seized Rs 18.31 crore in Tamil Nadu, Rs 14.40 crore in Maharashtra, Rs 10.46 crore in Uttar Pradesh and over Rs four crore in Punjab, apart from smaller sums confiscated in other states.
The EC has also asked the Central Board of Direct Taxes and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the two agencies under the finance ministry, to keep a strict vigil while elections are on.
Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath has acknowledged that to ensure that the expenditure ceiling of Rs 70 lakh for each candidate is not breached by the candidates has been one of the biggest challenges faced by the Commission. "The use of money power is one of the foremost challenges, particularly in some states," he added.
CONTROL OVER ADMIN
On receiving complaints, the EC on Monday ordered the transfer of some officials, including five superintendents of police, one district magistrate and two additional district magistrates in West Bengal ahead of the polls.
West Bengal goes to the polls from April 17 in five phases.
Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, was furious at the EC for ordering the transfer of officials in her state ahead of polling. "I challenge the Election Commission to remove anybody while I am in charge," she declared yesterday.
"How can the Election Commission transfer and name new officers without consulting the state government?" asked the chief minister.
In New Delhi, the EC did not respond to questions on Mamata's challenge, saying it would come out with a press statement if needed.
But things took a different turn when media, quoting sources in the EC, ran reports yesterday that the EC has the option of cancelling or postponing polls in certain West Bengal constituencies if the officers are not transferred.
This worked like tonic. Mamata calmed down. Her government yesterday reportedly agreed on transferring eight officials of her state.
The state government has, however, reportedly requested that the EC choose the officials who will replace the five superintendents of police, one district magistrate and two additional district magistrates, from a list of names it has forwarded.
This list, which reportedly does not include the names of officials that the EC had picked as replacements, was forwarded to the panel in a letter written by West Bengal's chief secretary yesterday morning.
The chief secretary also reportedly sought a reconsideration of its decision on the part of the EC, reports NDTV.
In February 2012, union law minister Salman Khurshid was compelled to apologise to the EC.
At an election rally for the ruling Congress candidate, Khurshid had violated the code of conduct relating to the Uttar Pradesh state polls by promising a nine percent sub quota to the minorities.
The EC then wrote a strong-worded letter to President Pratibha Patil, seeking her intervention. Finally, Khurshid apologised.
"I treat this matter as unfortunate and regret the statement. I bow to the wisdom of the EC and remain personally committed to ensure that such situations do not arise," Khurshid said in a letter to then chief election commissioner SY Quraishi.
In Bangladesh, the recent upazila parishad elections have exposed the fragile state of the EC. It was helplessly unable to ensure its control over the administration during the polls, which were marred by widespread rigging and violence.
The EC also failed to contain the use of black money in the polls. It did not make any effort to deploy as well as redeploy officials to ensure that no candidate exceeded the ceiling of his/her expenditure in the election campaign.
In the absence of monitoring, candidates had unlimited freedom to spend unauthorised money to influence the polls. The EC was also unable to prevent unabated violations of the electoral code of conduct by candidates, MPs and even          ministers.
The past EC, led by ATM Shamsul Huda, had deployed the EC's own officials in some parliamentary by-polls and local government elections to monitor the enforcement of the electoral code of conduct and to check the use of unauthorised money in electioneering. This approach worked effectively.
But the practice could not be developed further, thanks to the current EC's indifference to carrying further ahead its predecessors' good efforts.

Published: 12:02 am Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Last modified: 10:02 pm Wednesday, April 09, 2014

TAGS: Bangladesh elections distribution Actions speak The Indian Election Commission transfer inducements Income Tax and Customs

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