The Times of India
New Delhi

NEW DELHI: The government's move to give parliamentarians a Rs 30 lakh hike in election expenses appears as misplaced generosity with 30% MPs spending less than half of their funds.

Election expense declarations, analyzed by Association for Democratic Reforms, reveals that the average amount of money spent by 437 MPs in the Lok Sabha elections 2009 is only about Rs 14.62 lakh or 59% of the expense limit. Incidentally only 2 MPs—Samajwadi Party's Premdas from Etawah constituency and Akhilesh Yadav—exceeded their election expenses. While Premdas spent Rs 57.39 Lakh (230% of the expense limit), Yadav (Uttar Pradesh CM from Kannauj Constituency) spent Rs 26.73 Lakh (107% of the expense limit).

The government recently cleared a proposal of the Election Commission to raise the expenditure limits for Lok Sabha elections from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 70 lakh for each constituency in bigger states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka and from Rs 22 lakh in smaller states like Goa to Rs 54 lakh on par with other hilly and north eastern states. The Government also cleared the proposal to raise expenditure limits for assembly elections, with a maximum of Rs 28 lakh and a minimum of Rs 20 lakh in North Eastern and hill states.

However, spending patterns show that neither MPs nor legislators end up spending the entire amount. Even the recent five assembly elections — in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh — show that on an average, MLAs declared an expenditure that is far lower than the limit set, at 50% of the limit. In Delhi, MLAs declared an average expenditure of about 51% of the expense limit, in Chhattisgarh 53%, in Madhya Pradesh 48%, in Rajasthan 46% and in Mizoram 55%.

According to ADR founder Prof Trilochan Sastry, "Raising the ceiling does not address the real issues. First, we need a level playing field so that any public-minded citizen with a desire for public service should be able to contest elections and not be at a disadvantage. Raising the ceiling has no impact on that. Second, we need more transparency in funding and sources of funding, along with penalties for not being transparent. This is also not addressed. Third, we need penalties for crossing the new limit of Rs 70 lakh. This is also not taken care of. Finally, everyone knows about the huge amount of black money in elections. Gopinath Munde said he spent more than Rs 8 crore. We need to curb this blatant misuse of black money in elections. In summary, none of the major concerns are addressed by the Cabinet decision to raise the ceiling."

Other details revealed indicated that 317 MPs (73%) were not funded by their political party while only 120 MPs (27%) were funded by the political party and only 15 MPs (3%) declared that all of their expenditure was funded by the political party which fielded him/her.

Samajwadi Party MPs toted up the highest election expenses in the 2009 election with an average spending of Rs 19.48 lakh (78% of the election expense) followed by BJP and Congress -- both spending Rs 14.38 lakh or 59% of their expenses- while BSP spent Rs 14.72 lakh or 59% of its election expense.

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