Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, Congress and BJP have both questioned the Election Commission’s diktat that a candidate should foot the bill to publicise his criminal record, especially since it eats into his poll expenditure limit. Candidates from both the national political parties are learnt to have written to the EC red-flagging their concerns over the decision initiated by a Supreme Court order in September last year. People familiar with the development said the EC would look into the issue in view of the communications and take a fresh position on it. The SC had, in a bid to check increasing criminalisation of politics, ordered that it be made mandatory for every candidate in the fray in an election to inform the public at large about his criminal record in “bold letters” and at least three times after filing of nomination papers through newspapers at large and electronic media.
EC implemented the order for the first time in the recently held state elections, bringing out standard formats for each candidate to make a public declaration of his criminal record. While the SC order did not clarify on who would foot the bill for these advertisements and under which precise electoral account it would fall, it was added to the candidate’s election account in the elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. They pointed out that the impact could be significant for candidates in urban centres as compared to their counterparts from rural constituencies as newspaper and TV advertisements pricing is typically higher in cities.
One suggestion being made to EC is to shift the expenditure to the political party’s account instead as there is no expenditure limit for the party as of now. There are also, however, arguments that the party and candidates are being unfairly made to bear expense for advertising their own criminal record and it may be better to allocate airtime and newspaper space for this purpose as well just as is done for campaign purposes. As of now, the expenditure limit for a state assembly candidate is capped at Rs 28 lakh while it is Rs 70 lakh for candidates for general elections. All newspaper and electronic media advertisements/publicity material are currently included within this limit. Interestingly, many a candidate do not even exhaust this limit towards campaign expenditure even as flow of cash and freebies is only increasing in every election.