BAsed on the information on the website of the Election Commission of India (ECI), the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) analysed availability of statements of election expenditure incurred by political parties during assembly elections held between 2011 and 2015.
Among the national parties, election expenditure statements of NCP and CPI are not available for 2 assembly elections. The availability of election expenditure statements of regional parties is equally worrisome where the statements of JD(U) is unavailable for 15 assembly elections while that of SP is unavailable for 11 assembly elections.

The election expenditure statements submitted by 49 regional parties for Lok Sabha elections were analysed and found that 20 of the 49 parties had spent more than the total funds collected during the election period. A total of Rs. 58.56 crore was 'remaining unpaid' by 20 parties at the time of submission of expenditure statements.

It is to be noted that 12 parties out of the 20 had declared expenditure more than the funds collected. Maximum expenditure 'remaining unpaid' was declared by AIADMK, Rs. 25.91 crore (66 per cent of total exp); SP, Rs. 9.72 crore (11 per cent of total exp) and YSR-C, Rs. 5.6 crore (31 per cent of total exp).

The election expenditure statements submitted by 37 regional parties for assembly elections were analysed. Nineteen parties declared spending more than the funds collected. Rs. 44.66 crore was the amount declared as 'remaining unpaid' by 16 parties. Ten of those who had declared amounts remaining unpaid had incurred expenditure more than the funds collected.

Maximum expenditure 'remaining unpaid' was declared by SP, Rs. 17.79 crore (18 per cent of total exp); AITC Rs. 6.1 crore (33 per cent of total exp); Shiv Sena, Rs. 5.925 crore (20 per cent of total exp). ECI had issued transparency guidelines and made it effective from 1st October, 2014, stating that donors making cash donations made to parties would not get tax exemption.

It also stated that parties should not make any expenditure above Rs. 20,000 in cash (with exceptions). But there is no provision in the expenditure format for the parties to declare expenses below or aboveRs. 20,000. Hence, it appears that the parties are taking advantage of the opacity in the expenditure statements to collect and spend funds in cash.

During Bihar and Delhi assembly elections, 9 parties had submitted their expenditure statements, namely AAP, JDU, LJP, RJD, RLD, RLSP, SP, SAD and Shiv Sena. A total of Rs. 9.39 crore was collected by them in cash (23 per cent of total funds). Rs. 2.30 crore was spent in cash (5.1 per cent of total expenditure). A total of Rs. 7.46 crore was remaining unpaid at the time of submission of the expenditure statements.

ADR recommends that it must be made mandatory for all political parties to submit their statements of expenditure in the format given by the ECI, within the prescribed time limit. Political parties not submitting on time or in the prescribed format should be heavily penalized.

It also said that the details of all donors who contribute to national and regional parties exclusively for their election campaigns must be declared in the public domain irrespective of the amount donated. It seeks that a format similar to the donations report along with the date of donations, submitted to the ECI on an annual basis, has to be prescribed for the expenditure statement so as to bring in more transparency in the finances of the political parties especially during elections when it is said that black money plays a major role.

Similar to the shadow observers of the ECI for monitoring expenditure of candidates, ADR suggested that there must also be observers for monitoring the expenditure of political parties. While it is crucial for political parties to submit their expenditure statements for greater financial transparency, ADR said that it is equally important to file the same within the time limit set by the ECI and endorsed by the Supreme Court of India.

The National and Regional Parties should, ideally, lead by example by filing complete and correct statements of expenditure to the ECI well in time for public scrutiny so as to encourage financial transparency, it added.

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