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Most candidates ‘under-reporting’ poll expense, says CEC Zaidi

Terming the existing regime for regulating donations received and funds raised by political parties as not “deterrent enough”, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi said on Tuesday said that most of the candidates contesting polls in India are “under-reporting” their expenses.

Expressing dissatisfaction over weak regulations to check political funding, Zaidi said that inadequate laws to regulate political funds may lead to a “fearful” situation where institutions go under the “control of money” and holding fair polls becomes difficult.

“With the passage of time, elections are becoming expensive. Ordinary citizens, even with outstanding personal record and public service, cannot even dream to contest elections. The resources available are being garnered by a few political parties and their candidates. This situation is making parties dependent on money power with all adverse implications on the society and polity,” he said.

“...in the absence of such regulations, it is feared that various institutions can be under control of money and holding free and fair elections can become increasingly difficult. Due to less effective regulation, black money and illegal inducements are used to lure voters and disturb the electoral process in the country,” he said.

Zaidi, while addressing a global conference on the influence of money power in the electoral process, said it was high time that electoral reforms, which entail enactment of better laws to regulate money usage used in polls by parties and candidates, are ushered in.

“Political parties, as loosely governed under the law, they can raise any amount of resources barring contribution from government company and foreign donations and they can spend any amount of money during election campaign in a constituency if it is related to general party propaganda,” he said. Talking about the Indian electoral perspective, the CEC said their data “indicate that candidates are under-reporting expenses within the prescribed ceiling”.

“Out of 535 winners in the last parliamentary elections, expenses of majority of winners reported to the EC were in the range of 40-80 per cent only. In reality, as we all know, candidates spend several times their legal limit to run the election campaign,” he said.

The CEC said the limits for donations to be made by corporate houses to parties has increased over the period of time and hence, “this has increased the scope of receiving and spending more money at constituency level (by parties).”

He also talked about monetary contributions exempt from being reported to the EC and their ramifications. “The only legal requirement for political parties is to make annual contribution report to the EC,” he said, adding contributions below Rs 20,000 are “escaping the scrutiny of the EC and public.”  “We send these reports to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs and the Income Tax department for appropriate action at their end...data with us suggests that out of the total funds available with political parties, contribution amount of less than Rs 20,000 constitutes 80 per cent of the total funds,” he said.

As per Election Commission’s (EC) guidelines, a candidate trying his luck in public office for Lok Sabha polls can spend up to Rs 70 lakh, while those contesting Assembly polls can spend up to Rs 28 lakh.
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