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Sunday, 9 October 2011

Electoral reform begins, Khurshid meets Manmohan

Before the right to recall elected representatives gains traction in public opinion, Law Minister Salman Khurshid met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to give a presentation on electoral reform measures.

Social activist Anna Hazare, who went on a 12-day fast in August at the Ramlila Maidan here to demand a strong and more inclusive Lokpal Bill, has said his next campaign will be for the right to recall erring elected representatives. An all-party meeting on electoral reforms will be held later this month. The principal issue that was flagged was how to make it harder for those with criminal cases to contest elections.

The current legal position relating to a person convicted of criminal charges is that if the criminal charge – and not just the sentence – is suspended on an appeal, he has the right to contest elections. Khurshid believes this is unacceptable. “At the moment, those convicted of criminal charges have three months to appeal. That will not be available if the structure of amendments we have suggested goes through. Convicted members will be immediately excluded from Parliament,” he said, adding the problem was a nuance in the law.
“It depends on what order you get from the higher court. If the higher court says your conviction is suspended, then you can fight elections. If the higher court says your sentence is suspended, which means you don’t go to jail, but your conviction stands until such time that the appeal is heard, then you can’t fight elections. Now, this is a very fine, and I think unacceptable, distinction. So, we can certainly move forward and say if you’re convicted, then you can’t fight elections, irrespective of what the appeal order is, until you’re finally acquitted on appeal. That’s very clear and I think it’s possible to build consensus around that very quickly,” he said.

Another controversial amendment going to be put before the all-party meeting is crimes committed under section 153 (A), which pertains to creating enmity between communities. If this clause is put in the category of heinous crimes, politicians convicted under this clause will not have the right to contest elections.

The proposals mooted before the PM included changes in the Representation of the People Act to provide state funding for women and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes candidates of recognised political parties.

To get this benefit, candidates should not have an annual income of more than Rs 5 lakh and movable/immovable property worth more than Rs 22 lakh. The limit would also include the income and assets of a candidate’s spouse, sources said.

Another proposal makes it mandatory for candidates and their parties to submit accounts for audit by an agency authorised by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

The all-party meeting will also discuss the issue of state funding for elections. Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi has publicly expressed his scepticism about this, but Khurshid believes the idea is a ‘romantic’ one. Khurshid quoted Quraishi to say although the expenditure ceiling in elections was Rs 40 lakh, the actual accounts filed averaged Rs 9-10 lakh. On this basis, he said, it would not be practical to reduce expenditure on elections.


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