7 PM | Private member’s bill urges state poll funding | 27th July, 2019

Context: A private member’s Bill on amending the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951, and removal of caps on electoral expenditure by candidates contesting polls. 

More in news: Equating the expenditure limit on election expenses with prohibition, Congress MP Rajeev Gowda moved a private member’s bill in the Rajya Sabha that seeks removal of the limit and state funding of elections as part of reforms to the way polls are financed in India.

Private member’s Bill:

  • Any MP who is not a Minister is referred to as a private member. Parliament’s key role is to debate and make laws. Both Ministers and private members contribute to the lawmaking process.
  • Bills introduced by Ministers are referred to as government bills. They are backed by the government, and reflect its legislative agenda.
  • Private member’s bills are piloted by non-Minister MPs. Their purpose is to draw the government’s attention to what individual MPs see as issues and gaps in the existing legal framework, which require legislative intervention.
  • The admissibility of a private member’s Bill is decided by the Rajya Sabha Chairman. (In the case of Lok Sabha, it is the Speaker.
  • The Member must give at least a month’s notice before the Bill can be listed for introduction and then the House secretariat examines it for compliance with constitutional provisions and rules on legislation before listing.
  • While government Bills can be introduced and discussed on any day, private member’s Bills can be introduced and discussed only on Fridays.

The proposed Bill:

  • Asserting that the limit was counter productive and only helped those with black money to bribe individual voters and crippled honest candidates, Mr. Gowda mooted The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, makes two key proposals:
    • The current per candidate expenditure limit of ₹70 lakh should be lifted
    • There should be state funding to ensure a “cleaner polity”, which is a public good.
  • Asserting that the only way to cleanse the system was to ensure state funding, the bill proposed a National Election Fund, under which each political party could be allotted funds according to their recent electoral performance. 

State funding of election:

It means that government gives funds to political parties or candidates for contesting elections. Its main purpose is to make it unnecessary for contestants to take money from powerful moneyed interests so that they can remain clean. For this to happen, state funding needs to be accompanied by strict accounting and transparency. In some countries, state funding is extended to meeting some specific forms of spending by political parties, not confined to electioneering alone. Countries keep changing laws relating to state funding depending on experience and financial conditions.

A few government reports have looked at state funding of elections in the past, including:

  • The Indrajit Gupta Committee (1998) endorsed state funding of elections, seeing “full justification constitutional, legal as well as on ground of public interest” in order to establish a fair playing field for parties with less money. The Committee recommended two limitations to state funding, that the:
  • State funds should be given only to national and state parties allotted a symbol and not to independent candidates.
  • Short-term state funding should only be given in kind, in the form of certain facilities to the recognised political parties and their candidates. 
  • The 1999 Law Commission of India report concluded that total state funding of elections is “desirable” so long as political parties are prohibited from taking funds from other sources. The Commission concurred with the Indrajit Gupta Committee that only partial state funding was possible given the economic conditions of the country at that time. Additionally, it strongly recommended that the appropriate regulatory framework be put in place with regard to political parties (provisions ensuring internal  democracy,  internal structures and maintenance of accounts, their auditing and submission to Election Commission) before state funding of elections is attempted.
  • The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, 2001, did not endorse state funding of elections but concurred with the 1999 Law Commission report that the appropriate framework for regulation of political parties would need to be implemented before state funding is considered.
  • Ethics in Governance”, a report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2008) also recommended partial state funding of elections for the purpose of reducing “illegitimate and unnecessary funding” of elections expenses.

Way Forward:

By providing “floor level fund” to everyone, state fund scheme can be very helpful for smaller and newer political entrants. For various factors, India has seen a huge proliferation of political parties formed on ethnic, religious and other parochial grounds. However, due to the growing costs of elections, many of them find it difficult to put up a decent campaign. It is here the public funding of elections, especially if that is channelised through candidates, can come very handy to promote competitions between candidatures and can help bring internal democracy within these parties. Public funding, if implemented properly, can strengthen lower levels of party units to a situation where they can demand democratisation. It can therefore solve the problem of concentration of power in the hands of few and creation of dynastic politics. 

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/private-members-bill-urges-state-poll-funding/article28725960.ece

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