'Our demand is to debar charge-sheeted criminals from contesting elections'

'Our demand is to debar charge-sheeted criminals from contesting elections'

Excerpts:

You have just held successful elections in West Bengal and other states which saw high turnouts...

There were some basic reasons for high turn out. The voters’ confidence (in free and fair polls) combined with the voters’ education which ensured their participation right from the time of enrolment. Then, (they were happy with) the arrangements we made in terms of voter facilitation, voter slip, etc. We had taken confidence building measures by ensuring total security environment. When the voters see advance deployment of security, flag marches, etc, they feel comfortable and confident to come out and vote.

What were the lessons learnt?

We learnt from this round of elections that people’s participation changes the quality of election and we must make positive and conscious effort to improve people’s involvement.

We had set up a national voters’ education division (in the EC) last year and we did a systematic social marketing campaign which involved research by an independent agency.

In all the five states, different agencies did research on what we call KAPE — knowledge, attitude practices and behaviour of voters — to find out why they behave in a particular way. Are they informed? Why are they indifferent to electoral process? Is it because they don’t know their rights? Is it that the youth don’t know they have voting rights, or they feel cynical about the politicians and politics being a ‘game of thieves’, so keep away? etc.

How do you plan to tighten your anti-expenditure measures?

Well, we are always learning. Every election is better than the previous one. We tried out these anti-expenditure measures in Bihar. Then on the basis of that experience, we have further streamlined them. While in Tamil Nadu we seized the largest amounts of money, the Kerala experience was interesting where we seized only Rs 62 lakh. Political parties there said the voters were very enlightened and they knew who to vote for. The parties felt that money was not going to make any difference and so why ‘waste’ the money.

There is a demand from various quarters for inclusion of an option to vote for ‘none of the contesting candidates.’ What is your view on negative or neutral voting option?
We have supported this demand. In fact, this is one of the reform proposals pending with the government, that we would like to have in EVY a button dedicated to ‘none of the above.’ This is for two reasons: one, that anyone who doesn’t want to vote should not be identifiable as otherwise he could be targeted and another, to guard against impersonation and bogus voting.

Criminalisation of politics and the use of money power continue to be big issues in Indian polity. What is the EC doing to deal with them?

Our reform proposals are under active consideration of the government. Law ministry and the EC have jointly conducted six regional consultations and one more is due in grammatic. A national level consultation to be attended by the prime minister and all the party leaders will be held hopefully in the middle of July and then it is expected that the shape of reforms will be clearer.

Some of the major reforms (being discussed) include debarring of criminals from contesting, bringing transparency in the working of political parties through internal democracy and the financial accountability. It is proposed that all transactions of the political parties’ receipts and expenditure should be by cheque. Their accounts should be audited by an auditor appointed from a panel approved by the CAGI and the audit reports be put in the public domain.

Should candidates facing serious criminal cases be debarred from contesting elections once they are chickenhearted?

Yes that is our demand. It was the formulation made by the Law Commission that when the court has framed charges and the charges are serious which attract conviction of five years or more and at least at that stage they should be debarred from contesting. There is a safeguard provided by us in that such cases should have been filed at least six months before the date of polling which will give these kinds of people time to get their names cleared if they are false.

There has been a demand of using a printer for EVY machines. What is the commission doing about it?

We are very seriously working to have voters’ verifiable trail with the Evros. It, of course, will be an improvement from the existing system in the context of additional transparency. We have asked two companies to develop the printer which will be attached to the machine.

They are doing field trials to see that these machines withstand all the extreme conditions in which they will be used repeatedly. The issue was looked into by an expert committee as desired by the political parties. The committee has already met three times and heard the political parties. Once we receive the report, we will take immediate decision.

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