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Madras High Court on Use of Public Funds for Campaigns

What is the News?

The Madras High Court has asked the ECI (Election Commission of India) to ensure that public funds are not for campaign purposes.

What was the case before the Madras High Court?

  • A political party filed the PIL in the Madras High Court. It seeks a direction to ECI to prohibit ministers, the Leader of the Opposition, and all others holding public office from campaigning on behalf of their party’s candidates.
  • The petitioner alleged that these people end up misusing their public office during elections. It becomes a disadvantage for the other candidates in the fray.

Key Observations made by the Court:

  • ECI has sufficient authority to put in place checks and balances. It can allow Ministers to enjoy their official status and simultaneously can prevent them from spending government funds for campaigning or election purposes.
  • However, security concerns for higher officials like Chief Ministers and those holding Cabinet positions at the Centre shall also be considered.
  • But the EC can still put some guidelines in place in addition to the existing guidelines. It is indicated in the model code to ensure government funds are not used for campaigning purposes, which is a usual exercise at present.

What is the Model Code of Conduct(MCC)?

  • The Model Code of Conduct(MCC) is a set of guidelines. The Election Commission issues them (EC) to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections.
  • The MCC becomes operational from the date of the announcement of the election schedule until the date of the result.

MCC guidelines on Party in Power: The MCC incorporated certain restrictions in 1979, regulating the conduct of the party in power.

  • Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same. However, the ECI has exempted the Prime Minister from this MCC provision related to the combining of an official visit with an electioneering visit.
  • The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer. Also, official mass media shall not be used for publicity of achievements in the elections.
  • Ministers and other authorities must not announce any financial grants, or promise any construction of roads, provision of drinking water among others.
  • Other parties must be allowed to use public spaces and rest houses and these must not be monopolised by the party in power.

Source: The Hindu

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