New Delhi

There is a discrepancy between the declared amounts received through various means and the amounts spent

                                                                                  Credit: PTI

New Delhi: In the last eleven years, political parties collected more funds for election expenses in cash, but the expenditure statements they submitted to the Election Commission of India (ECI) after the polls said they spent more through cheques.

This glaring anomaly came across in an analysis of funds declared by parties as poll donations received from various sources during 71 assembly and three parliamentary elections held between 2004 and 2015. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and the National Election Watch have put together an analysis report on this issue.

As per the figures in the report, shared with media persons at a press meet in New Delhi on Monday, the break up of the total number of funds collected by parties in the 2004, 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections are – 1299.53 crore rupees in cheque (55% of the total funds), 16.76 crore rupees in kind (1%) and 1039.06 crore rupees in cash (44%).

However, the total expenditure incurred by them during the same period was 2044.67 crore rupees in cheque (83%), 163.79 crore rupees in kind (7%) and 257.61 crore rupees in cash (10% of total expenses).

“This is an interesting observation. From the figures, it is obvious that while the funds collected in cash for electioneering was more, they spent less cash. This is a mystery,” said ADR founder and trustee Jagdeep S. Chokkar. While 42 national and regional parties contested the Lok Sabha polls in 2004, 41 contested the 2009 polls and 45 of them took part in the 2014 polls.

The same trend could be observed in the official figures furnished to the EC by parties for the 71 assembly elections held between 2004 and 2015:

“Another observation is that 20 of the total 49 parties in the Lok Sabha elections spent more than the total funds they collected during the election period. Of the 37 regional parties in the assembly polls, 19 declared more funds than they collected,” pointed out ADR head Anil Verma. For instance, while All India Anna DMK (AIADMK) collected 14.3924 crore rupees during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it showed a total expenditure of 32.19 crore rupees. While Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) collected 17.8 crore rupees during the 2014 polls, the total expenditure incurred was 18.460 crores. In the 2011 assembly polls, while the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) collected 12.74 crores, it spent 18.46 crore rupees.

“Yet another observation is that 44.66 crore rupees was the amount declared as ‘remaining unpaid’ by 16 parties. Of them ten had incurred expenditure more than the funds collected,” Verma added.

The maximum expenditure ‘remaining unpaid’ was declared by Samajwadi Party, 17.79 crore rupees or 18% of the total expenditure. AITC showed 6.1 crore rupees (33% of the total expenditure) and Shiv Sena 5.925 crore rupees (20% of the total expenditure).

While parties are required to submit the expenditure incurred during assembly polls within 75 days, 90 days is the time frame given to parties for parliamentary elections. However, as per information on the ECI website, among the national parties, the election expenditure statements of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) are unavailable for two assembly polls between 2011 and 2015. Among the regional parties, Janata Dal (United)’s statements are unavailable for 15 assembly elections and that of SP is unavailable for 11 assembly polls. The report, which comes with a set of recommendations, says, “Political parties not submitting (their statements of expenditure) on time or in the prescribed format should be heavily penalised.”

The ADR recommendations also include making the present expenditure format for the parties “similar to the donations report along with the date of donations”. Though EC had issued transparency guidelines since October 1, 2014, the present format doesn’t reflect the intent of those guidelines.

For example, the guidelines that says parties should not make any expenditure above 20,000 rupees in cash isn’t found in the format. “There is no provision in the present format to declare expenses below or above 20,000 rupees. It seems parties are taking advantage of it,” said Verma.

Also, while there is a ceiling of 70 lakh rupees imposed on a contestant by the ECI, there is no upper limit on the expenditure that a party can incur during its election campaigns. “The Supreme Court has voiced its concern over the fact that elections were now being contested on the might of monies which might have been obtained from illegal sources. The 170th Law Commission report suggested monitoring and regulation of expenditure by political parties. Therefore, ADR filed a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) in the Delhi High Court in 2015, requesting the court to issue such directions that those recommendations be implemented. The case is in court,” said Chokkar.

In addition, the NGO working for transparency in political spending and electioneering has sought a direction to the parties to submit election expenditure statements one year prior to the date of announcements of elections for the Lok Sabha elections, unlike the present rule of stating expenses incurred only during the poll period.

“We have also requested the court to increase the frequency of submission of expenditure statements during the election period, such as once a month before declaration of elections and at least once a week during the election period so that people can monitor it on the ground,” said Chokkar.

“To keep an eye on election spending of the parties, ADR has also launched a mobile phone app where photos can be clicked by people and sent to us. The secrecy of the sender will be maintained,” said Trilocharan Sastry, also a founder and trustee of ADR.

In 2013, prior to the PIL at the high court, the Central Information Commission (CIC), in response to a petition by ADR and Subhash Aggarwal, had ordered bringing six political parties under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which the parties rejected.

Said Sastry, “India is the least transparent country when it comes to the political parties’ management of finance. In countries like Japan, the public can look at every penny that a political party spends. But in our country, the parties don’t want to come under RTI. They refuse to abide by the laws they create. Take the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). While foreign funding for 9,000 NGOs was cancelled, it is allowed for political parties. Finally, it is not a question of morality but of good governance. The public should reflect on these figures and think about whether these parties who spent so much money in elections could give them good governance.”

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