New Delhi
Chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi said anonymous donations were a bigger concern than corporate donations. Photo: PTI
New Delhi: India’s poll watchdog is concerned about the growing influence of black money in elections and may mandate electronic filing of accounts and e-capturing of photos or evidences of malpractices, new chief election commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi said in an email interview.
The need for transparent poll finance was widely discussed in the last one year, which saw one general election and five state elections. The manifestos of both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress had pledged to make efforts to retrieve black money supposedly hidden abroad.
Zaidi, who took charge as India’s 20th CEC on 19 April, said the commission was taking several steps, including online public scrutiny and disclosure of accounts, and ensuring compliance by maintaining accounts of contribution and expenses.
“The commission is seriously concerned about the growing influence of black money in recent elections. Vote-buying and inducement of voters is a major challenge where black money is used,” Zaidi said. “The menace of black money in elections can be tackled by strict enforcement of anti-corruption laws, Right to Information Act and effective disclosure norms. This is because of the fact that there are no limits on individual contributions and party expenses.”
The RTI Act of 2005, which empowers citizens to demand information from the government and obliges officials to provide it, has been used by activists and ordinary citizens to seek details of financing by political parties. However, political parties are yet to form appellate authorities as directed by the Central Information Commission, which brought them under the ambit of the transparency law.
Zaidi said anonymous donations were a bigger concern than corporate donations. “In EC’s national consultation with stakeholders, some issues came up and many parties demanded a ban on corporate donation. However, there is no consensus of the parties on this. In my view, anonymous donation has more severe repercussions than corporate donations. The issue of anonymous donation should be addressed first,” he said.
A 1976 batch IAS officer and former director general of civil aviation, Zaidi will lead the commission in the next two years that will see elections in politically sensitive states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. He takes charge of EC at a time when there are no other election commissioners in the central poll watchdog.
He declined comment on the appointment of other members.
Zaidi said EC will soon make a ground assessment of the situation in Bihar. “Some of the challenges in Bihar elections will be to ensure higher voter participation against the background of low turnout, control abuse of money power, muscle power and paid news, besides adequate security arrangements to ensure fair and free elections,” he said.
Bihar, which goes to polls later this year, has often been in the news in the past for booth capturing and poll violence.
“Money, including black money, is of a serious concern not just for elections but for democracy itself. There have to be several approaches to it and not just one way to go,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, a founding member of New Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms, which works in the area of electoral reforms. “The Law Commission’s latest report says disclosure is at the heart of public supervision of political finance. Therefore, political parties have to be in public domain and, unless that happens, the impact of black money cannot even be estimated.”
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