The 20th lecture of the “Lecture Series” organized by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) was delivered by the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Dr. Nasim Zaidi here today on the topic “Political Finance and some implications”.
The CEC, at the outset, explained the scale and uniqueness of the election process in India. Salient features of the Indian electoral system were explained, such as the concept of universal adult suffrage, the constitutionally created autonomy and independence of the Election Commission of India, the system of electoral representation for the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies as differentiated from the electoral system followed for the Rajya Sabha and State Legislative Councils. He explained the scale of the Indian election process, thus providing a context to the issues discussed in his lecture.
The CEC identified the need to ensure inclusive electoral democracy, management of a database of 1,000 million voters in the near future, implementation of a code of conduct, decriminalization of elections and the need to ensure transparency on poll funding as the prime challenges to the election system. Dr. Nasim Zaidi explained the concept of free elections (without any fear or pressure) as well as fair elections (the existence of a level playing field for all stakeholders, without any undue advantage to any stakeholder). Sources of funding available to candidates as well as parties were enumerated in the lecture. He also delved upon the legal and illegal types of election expenditure, both at the level of candidates as well as the political parties.
The CEC identified four pillars of political finance, viz. regulation of donation and expenses, imposition of limits on expenses, transparency of contributions and penalties for non-adherence to the framework. State funding of elections is another pillar which, he said, did not appear feasible till the first four pillars were achieved. These were dealt with at length in the lecture and various relevant provisions and proposed amendments to the Representation of People Act, the Companies Act 2013 as well as the Income Tax Act were discussed in detail.
Some recent innovations in poll financing, such as the constitution of Electoral Trusts under the IT Act and the scheme of issue of Electoral Bonds under the RBI Act were explained by the CEC. Other issues such as the risks of money power to the democratic system, the conditions and precedents on state funding of elections, and reform proposals of the Election Commission, as well as the anti-corruption framework desired for free and fair elections were also discussed.