After considering the representations of the political parties on the transparency guidelines issued on August 29 2014, the ECI circulated a notification on 19th November, addressed to the President/ General Secretary and Treasurers of all registered political parties on the issue of transparency guidelines.
This notification was issued as a ‘clarification' as there were questions raised by political parties on the powers of the Commission apart from stating that the guidelines were difficult to interpret and liable to misinterpretation.
In its clarification, the ECI has stated the following to drive home the point that ECI has plenary powers to fill any legal vacuum concerning free and fair elections:
•The new instructions will ensure that political parties will not only reveal names of all donors (apart from those from hundi collections) but to also substantially have accountable transactions.
•The Association for Democratic Reforms says that national and regional recognised parties would loath giving up their ‘recognised party' status which will result in the loss of free airtime and subsidised bungalows among other such facilities
• Article 324 of the Constitution empowers the ECI with plenary powers which was established in the Supreme Court judgement (AIR 1978 SC 851) by stating that the Commission has the powers to fill any legal vacuum so as to promote free and fair elections.
• The guidelines were lawful instructions issued after consultation with all recognised parties and hence are binding.
• While the guidelines stated that the details of all donors who make contributions to political parties need to be maintained, the ECI clarified that hundi/bucket collections are exempted.
• As a step towards financial transparency, political parties will now have to deposit all cash donations in banks within 10 working days. By imposing a limit on average monthly cash expenditure of political parties, the ECI has made sure that all major/ lumpsum transactions are executed via accountable methods.
• The political parties vehemently contested the guideline which stated that all transactions above Rs 20,000 during elections need to be via bank transfers/ account payee cheque/draft. The ECI stressed and maintained that such steps would ensure curbing excessive flow of cash during elections and improve transparency.
• By stating that the Commission will take action as per Para 16A of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, the political parties are now legally bound to comply with the guidelines and lawful notifications else face de-recognition.
Para 16A of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 and its effect on parties:
"16A. Power of Commission to suspend or withdraw recognition of a recognised political party for its failure to observe Model Code of Conduct or follow lawful directions and instructions of the Commission.-Notwithstanding anything in this Order, if the Commission is satisfied on information in its possession that a political party, recognised either as a National Party or as a State Party under the provisions of this order, has failed or has refused or is refusing or has shown or is showing defiance by its conduct or otherwise
(a) to observe the provisions of the Model Code of Conduct for Guidance of Political parties and "Candidates" as issued by the Commission in January, 1991 or as amended by it from time to time, or
(b) follow or carry out the lawful directions and instructions of the Commission given from time to time with a view to furthering the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections or safeguarding the interests of the general public and the electorate in particular, the Commission may, after taking into account all the available facts and circumstances of the case and after giving the party a reasonable opportunity of showing cause in relation to the action proposed to be taken against it, either suspend, subject to such terms as the Commission may deem appropriate, or withdraw the recognition of such party as the National party or, as the case may be, the State party."
The parties will no longer be able to avail the following benefits:
Free air time on Doordarshan, All India Radio.
Free copies of electoral rolls (one printed copy and one CD).
Free land allotment and subsidised office space for rent.
Facilities in Delhi and other parts of the country available at a nominal rate but maintained and renovated at state expense.
Facilities for accommodation to political parties' office bearers at very nominal rates.
Why did the Election Commission issue the guidelines?
The source of a large portion of the donations received by political parties is not known.
Political parties are required to submit the details of their election expenditure within 75 days of Assembly and within 90 days of the Lok Sabha elections. Even major parties have flouted/ not adhered to this requirement.
Benefits of Financial Transparency
Political parties act as a link between the citizens and the government must be accountable to the public at large. Political parties are the major stakeholders in a democracy and they seek to undertake activities that are in the interest of the general public. Adherence to the guidelines issued by the ECI by all political parties will usher a new era of transparency in the polity of our country.