Scrap the ceiling

It is futile to think that the Election Commission’s move to increase the current ceiling on expenditure incurred by candidates in elections will bring about any greater transparency in election accounting than now. It is true that overall campaign expenses have increased for various reasons, including inflation. Political parties and candidates have been complaining  that the limits imposed by the commission are a constraint. The commission’s plan is reported to be to hike the limits by up to 50 per cent. The current ceilings are Rs 40 lakh for Lok Sabha constituencies and Rs 16 lakh for Assembly constituencies. But the expenses declared by most candidates after the elections are much less than the ceilings set by the election commission. If they do not spend the permissible amount why should the ceiling be increased? That supports the well known fact that the accounts are always falsified. Considering that the present ceiling itself is a farce, it is better not to fix a limit, but ensure transparency in expenditure.

The main problem is that the source of election funding is still opaque and the commission does not have any effective means or mechanism to monitor it. The proposals for making the source of funds clean and open as part of wider election reforms have not reached anywhere. It is well known that unaccounted money is the main driving force of election expenditure. Ceilings become meaningless in such a situation. The commission does not also have the wherewithal to enforce the norms.

Though it has employed observers and set up an elaborate system to track the expenditure of candidates the monitoring is hardly effective. Complaints  by rival candidates or others about violation of expenditure norms are not followed through. In fact even after a political leader in Maharashtra openly confessed last year that he had exceeded his election expenditure limit by many multiples no action was taken against him.

The Commission should also consider the demand for removing some of the stringent restrictions on the election campaign as the candidates find it difficult to reach out to the people more effectively. Elections are all about educating the people about the worthiness of different candidates they have to choose from and they should not reduced to being  mere representatives of different political parties.

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