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Laws still inadequate to curb money abuse in polls: CEC

Laws still inadequate to curb money abuse in polls: CEC

NEW DELH: Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) O P Rawat said on Saturday that the present set of laws is "inadequate" to tackle the menace of black money in elections and noted that Cambridge Analytica-like "machinations" of data theft, data harvesting and fake news pose a potent threat to the electoral process in the country. Speaking on Challenges To India Electoral Democracy at a meet organised by the Delhi Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) here, Rawat said that democracy does not run on whims and requires traits such as courage, character, integrity and knowledge, which are diminishing and on the "verge of extinction" in the country.

Underlining a number of issues and challenges that face the electoral body, the CEC said that clean elections are like a "well spring of legitimacy" for the leadership and the people of the country and if this is contaminated by such issues, the common man becomes "cynical" about the entire system, which is an area of concern.

"With the rise of fake news, with the rise of make believe things, with the rise of all kind of machinations like data theft, data harvesting, profiling, targeted communication affecting not only communication but referendums the world over and changing the outcome of any process which is meant to translate popular will in (taking) a healthy decision, in (choosing) a healthy representative government. That's the potent threat every democracy in the world is facing," said Rawat.

The CEC said that the EC is well aware of these issues among many others similar to them. "Here in our country, the Commission is seized of issues such as cyber security, securing our data so that Cambridge Analytica kind of things do not happen over elections, about misuse and abuse of social media platforms, about fake news, about all kinds of ills that get into whether it is management of electoral rolls, campaign finance, polling process and technology," he said.

Specifically dwelling on the use of money power during polls, the top EC functionary said that current laws were not of much help for them to ensure a complete check of this abuse and that is why "state funding" of polls is not possible in India at present. "Abuse of money is the main concern for India and in Indian elections. There has been a lot of talk for bringing about transparency in campaign finance, even people talk about state funding.

"But, whatever legal framework is available as on date today, is not adequate to address this issue. And therefore, the commission has been suggesting a number of reforms in this direction," the Chief Election Commissioner said.

On state funding, he said that the commission feels that "it won't serve the purpose effectively because so long as you have torrents of money from such sources flowing into the election arena, state funding is just like a fig leaf trying to control that torrent."

Rawat said that effective use of the media and curbing the use of fake and paid news are an important area on which the poll body has been working upon. "...major challenge is about management of media including social media. That is multiple dimensions, starting from ownership of media."

"If you study the ownership of media, you will find that enormous change has come about and whatever we could think in terms of freedom of Press, that "Press" is maybe just a miniscule part languishing in some corner of the whole media spectrum," he said.

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