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Freebies debate: EC proposes change in poll code

Freebies debate: EC proposes change in poll code
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Wants parties to give info on financial viability of election promises

New Delhi: The Election Commission on Tuesday proposed amending the model code to ask political parties to provide authentic information to voters on the financial viability of their poll promises, a move that comes amid the freebies versus welfare measures debate that has triggered a political slugfest in the recent weeks.

In a letter to all recognised national and state parties, the Election Commission(EC) asked them to submit their views on the proposals by October 19.

The EC also said empty poll promises have far-reaching ramifications, adding it cannot overlook the undesirable impact inadequate disclosures on election promises have on financial sustainability.

“The Commission notes that the consequences of inadequate disclosures by political parties get attenuated by the fact that elections are held frequently, providing opportunities for political parties to indulge in competitive electoral promises, particularly in multi-phase elections, without having to spell out their financial implications more particularly on committed expenditure,” the letter said.

Reacting to the EC proposal, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) said governments should spend the taxpayers money to provide facilities to people, not to benefit political leaders, their family members and friends.

Providing electricity, water, schools and other facilities to the people is the “core responsibility” of any government, the party said.

The poll panel’s proposal comes weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi derided the “revadi” culture, a reference to freebies offered by political parties, sparking a war of words between the BJP and the AAP.

The Supreme Court also recently observed that the issue concerning freebies is an important one and requires debate.

The poll panel has proposed to amend the Model Code of Conduct to add a proforma to Part VIII (Guidelines on election manifesto) of the MCC.

It will require political parties to inform voters about the financial feasibility of promises made in their manifestos and also whether they are sustainable within the financial space of the state or the Union government.

The proposed proforma seeks details of revenue generation ways (through additional tax, if any), rationalising expenditure (cutting some schemes, if so required), impact on committed liabilities and/or raising of further debt and its impact on Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act (FRBM) limits.

The model code is a document which guides the EC in ensuring level playing field for all political parties and candidates during elections.

The EC noted that as of now most political parties do not submit to the EC their poll declarations in time.

“The choice to cast the vote … is directly and intricately linked to access to timely and, reliable information. It is in this background that timely availability of data-points to assess financial viability of the promises made to voters in the election manifestos assumes criticality,” the letter said.

The poll panel said it is of the considered view that with adequate disclosures on the financial implications of the promises made, the Indian electorate will be able to exercise informed poll choices.

“Although implementation of election promises could have several ramifications, the Commission proposes to confine the disclosures to only the financial implications of the promises in terms of the financial resources required.”

The poll panel in a recent meeting led by Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar and attended by Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey decided it cannot remain a “mute spectator” and overlook the undesirable impact of some of the promises and offers on the conduct of free and fair elections and maintaining level playing field, sources said.

They said the poll panel agrees in principle with the point of view that framing of manifestos is the right of the political parties.

The EC letter said if no response is received to the proposals by October 19 it will be presumed political parties have nothing specific to say on the issue.

Drawing upon his experience with the Finance Commission, RBI, and the budget process as a Union finance secretary, CEC Kumar has pushed for the electoral reform for not only bringing about a standardised disclosure proforma for guidance of political parties and candidates, but also ensuring authentic information to the voters to assess financial viability of election promises.

Press Trust of India

Press Trust of India is lead news agency of India

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