Monday, November 7, 2011

Teekhi Baat_S Y Quraishi_Prabhu Chawla/IBN7, Saturady 05, 2011

Teekhi Baat with Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi for IBN7. He made explosive revelations regarding governments delaying election reforms, candidates tenure, appointment of election commissioner, UP elections and most importantly use of black money in elections. Excerpts:

PC: Like you have said, election is the source of corruption, then why are you unsuccessful in finding the solution to this issue.

SQ: Please see, we don’t have a ‘jadoo ki chadi’ for addressing the black money issue. It is not easy to control black money. But we have taken some steps recently which have made circulation of black money difficult. Because we have set up an expenditure monitoring division, in which we have got an officer as a director general who has worked for the income tax department. Made guidelines, we have recovered Rs. 73 crore in the past five years. For every one crore we seized, we have stopped circulation of black money to the extent of Rs. 50 crore. We had choked the lines of money flow; we keep on learning and would make monitoring even better.

PC: You have fixed a limit of Rs. 40 lakh for spending for a MP election, do you think that election expenditure happens in Rs. 40 lakh.

SQ: You are right; many people question this and say that the limit should be rationalized. But there has not been any consensus on whether we should double the limit, increase even more or remove it altogether.

PC: I am asking you a Teekhi Baat, in Rs. 16 lakh do you think election of a MLA constituency, with its large area can be fought, isn’t it folly on the part of the election commission in believing that this can happen.

SQ: No it is not a folly of the election commission.

PC: You have the power to increase the limit.

SQ: No, we don’t have to increase the limit, this parliament has to decide.

PC: But the recommendation will be yours.

SQ: We say that it should be increased. Till last year, the limit of only Rs. 10 lakh, we recommended to make it Rs. 16 lakh for MLA and from Rs. 25 lakh to Rs. 40 lakh for MP election. Now what is the rational ceiling. Now earlier the expense limit was only Rs. 10 lakh, after the limit was increased to Rs. 16 lakh, candidates could declare expenditure of Rs. 15.90 lakh, but most of them have given declaration of Rs. 8 or 9 lakh.

PC: Do you believe this is true.

SQ: Not at all.

PC: Hence, every person filed a wrong affidavit.

SQ: That is one; the other thing is that there is no need for it, why is he doing it.

PC: When you know that the candidate is doing the wrong thing, they why are you not successful in taking action against him or you have no powers to do so.

SQ: No, we don’t have powers regarding that. We are saying that either we are given power to rationalize this, we will discuss this with political parties and fix a rational limit. Many parties say that even this limit is too much, make is less, some say, increase it. But a debate should happen and a realistic figure should come out. But what is decided, people should abide by it, this is important.

PC: You have had a career as an IAS officer and seen how elections have been fought. So, if you have to give you opinion, you think Rs. 40 lakh limit is less in the least.

SQ: Certainly, it is less. Because, anecdotally, privately, we are told that Rs. 2 crore and Rs. 5 crore have been spent, but we cannot do anything without evidence. If we have evidence, will conduct raids, make a flying squad, to stop money flow when it happens. These are the things we are trying and getting some fruitful results too, but still not enough. Money power is the biggest worry for us.

PC: You said elections are biggest source of corruption. You also said that when there is an expenditure limit of Rs. 16 lakh for MLA elections, candidates file affidavit stating only Rs. 8 or 9 lakh as expenditure, MP’s also not filing affidavit showing Rs. 40 lakh expenditure. So many MPs and MLAs, even now, are giving wrong information to election commission, you agree on this.

SQ: I agree on this, but why do they do it is not understood. Let me tell you, when we say that elections has become a source of corruption. Because, if somebody comes to power by spending Rs. 2, 4 crore, from the first day itself he will look for ways to make money. Hence there is a need to have control over monetary spending; you are talking about rationalizing of ceiling, but what if that is made Rs. 2 crore, Rs. 5 crore spending legal. Then that person will mobilize the money from somewhere or the other. Hence, if there is a legal limit, there is a reason for the same. That they should spend within the limit, because if they spend money beyond means, then you will do dishonesty to recover it.

PC: You and we all know that people spend beyond limit, but don’t declare. Now, he as he cannot declare, he mobilizes black money for expenditure. Now, if they are 3 serious candidates in every constituency, with each spending Rs. 5 crore, that means at least around Rs. 7,500 crore is spent in Lok Sabha election.

SQ: This is the biggest problem that we are trying to control, that of money power. The whole country and all parties have to think how we should stop this. We are alone but what can we do alone, we are using the stick. But then people say that we have imposed emergency, we have to do something, there is a law.

PC: Then why don’t you recommend.

SQ: We cannot do this because people will want a debate on this issue. In fact, we get versions of every kind, many MPs have come to us, and we trust them, they say that this limit if enough and even lesser money than the existing limit is needed. Many places we have seen candidates going on cycles, doing a door to door campaign, people who have no money.

PC: Limit means the maximum spending limit, who wants to do less may do so.

SQ: In comparison of Rs. 5 crore, one cannot win elections with Rs. 5,000, hence money power should not get a premium. So, should we a make a ceiling such that, only the moneyed can fight elections, the financially weak cannot.

PC: He will declare at least from where he got the money.

SQ: But the point is that if he declares Rs. 10 crore, then the second person has no chance. So much unlimited money power is not right.

PC: The candidate fighting elections are giving you wrong information, the parties are giving you wrong information

SQ: This is happening and has been a worry for us, but in other areas.

PC: Some party is saying they have spend Rs. 50 crore, Rs 70 crore, whereas they have 500 candidates.

SQ: Certainly, certainly. Money power is the only problem we have now, because muscle power, both capture are passé. But this is the problem we are still facing and taking steps from our side to tackle it. But how to tackle it fully, there has to be a national debate on this issue. Infact, Annaji’s proposal on this issue is very interesting, he says right to reject. He says that if a person has spent crores of rupees and people reject you, and you cannot even contest again, then your money is gone waste. This is a very interesting possibility. When team Anna came, we discussed this with them, regarding any step to stop flow of money.

PC: But none of these is also a column

SQ: It is not there at present, we have recommended for the same. We have said that we should be allowed to have ‘None of the above’ button on the machine.

PC: It is in the act, but has not been implemented as yet.

SQ: The reason for that is that when there was a time of ballot papers, you can go to the booth and say that you don’t want to cast a vote, then everybody would know that Chawla – saab dosent want to give vote. But then the candidates harassing you to give vote to them, would catch you and tell that you did not vote at all. Now, you can go a press the button and everybody will have a notion that you have cast vote. We want to see that voter secrecy is maintained. If he does not want to vote for anybody, he will go to the machine and press the ‘none of the above’ button, a beep noise will come, people will think he has voted. But it will be a blank vote, but it will not be known who gave blank vote.

PC: You have recommended this.

SQ: I recommended it, but it is not right to reject. None of the above does not mean right to reject. If 100 people vote and 99 press none of the above button, and one votes in favour of Chawla, then for us Chawa is the elected candidate, because that is only the valid vote.

PC: That means if hundred are against, but if one person votes in favour, then the candidate wins.

SQ: According to today’s formula.

PC: So what is your recommendation?

SQ: But Anna says on this basis, all should be rejected. But then of issues should be seen, we will have to disqualify the whole panel. Otherwise, after 15 days, that panel will come again to contest.

PC: Even this is not pratical, it means.

SQ: It is not practical. Secondly, you debar the whole panel, in which there were some innocent people, who had done no mistake.

PC: Of what civil society said, you also rejected right to recall. You said right to reject is also very difficult. Hence, what positive suggestion do you have.

SQ: We have given reason for the two opinions we gave. Right to recall because it is not practical, not practical because, four lakh people voted for you when you won an election, you have a term of five years, and voter can reject you after five years, it is not right to have a sword hanging over your head after you are elected. And it is not only unfair to you but also four lakh people who have voted for you. How can you throw their opinion out on the basis of signatures of 5000 people.

PC: There will be a referendum after that.

SQ: But before the referendum.

PC: Is there a solution for right to recall.

SQ: Right to recall is not practical in a country like India. One solution can happen, that if people so impatient that they cannot wait for five years, then you think and make the term of lok sabha and vidhan sabha of four years. But in my opinion five years is fine. But people people are suffering, then reduce the term to four years. But whatever the term, it should not be uncertainity, there should not be a sword handing so the person would keep on thinking that who is hitting him with a knife in the back.

PC: This is a Teekhi Baat, you suggestion is that if some improvement has to be done, reform then the term should be reduced, like in America it is for four years, thought can be given . Election commission initiate a debate on this issue.

SQ: Certainly, it can be done.

PC: So, you will debate on this four year tenure.

SQ: Debate will be started from here itself, it has started.

PC: The other problem is that of frivolous candidates, they also spend money. The issue in India is that there are so many parties, national registered are six, state level there are 400-500. In total there may be around 4000 parties. Have you paid attention to this that even forming a political party has become a business?

SQ: Certainly, according to us there are around 1350 political parties. But that is yesterday’s figure, till now they would have increased. Hence, it is seen that a lot of bogus, candidates are also fielded. They might be good to, but many dummy candidate are fielded, may be 10 in number, then they will be ten agents at the polling booth. They may create a ruckus at polling booth. If an independent candidate is allowed 10 vehicles, they will use it to do propaganda of some other candidate. We also manage to catch them. Many people give suggestion that only political parties should fight elections.

PC: But many political parties that are formed, of brother sister, father son, don’t you think some political parties are just formed to collect donations.

SQ: Certainly, this possibility is there. Because we saw some parties recently, they had spend Rs. 3.5 crore, but when we checked what political activity they did we found that they had bought jewellery and shares. Now jewellery can be a part of household politics but not national politics. Hence, a tv channel, your channel, IBN7 took the list from us, and they checked office addresses of 100 political parties to see if they exist or not. Some place there was a name plate, so places not even that.

PC: So, don’t you have a view that the number of political parties should be rationalised their number should become less.

SQ: Yes, in that too, we saw that we have power to register political parties. But there is no power of de registering, for some reason there is this shortcoming in the law. And then the court decided that law should be specific. This power to deregister also we are demanding form the government for a long time, hence the bogus parties are deregistered. This is also unfair to the people as bogus activities are being carried out. And from 2003, when income tax rebate has been started, money laundering has also started. Form a party, the donations to the outfit will be exempt from tax and use that to buy shares and jewellery, what is this.

PC: Hence you want that you should have the power of de registration.

SQ: Certainly. It should have been in the first place.

PC: Why don’t you audit accounts of political parties? And after that you can derecognize them, that is in your hand.

SQ: De recognition is in our hands, but the rules regarding it are regarding the performance in the election. How many seats and how many votes were polled, that is the only ground, the other grounds are not there. But in powers of de registration, it will be said that you had formed a party with a purpose and taken an oath, if you violated it, then you would have to be de registered.

PC: Now, five elections are impending, will you hold UP elections alone or with other states.

SQ: Please see, elections are being held in five states, but we have not decided on this issue. We have done one round of the states, we are going on a second round now. We take opinions from political parties regarding timing and phases.

PC: Your effort will be to do elections together in all these states.

SQ: According to the phases.

PC: Some UP phases may be done later but all results would come out simultaneously.

SQ: Certainly, that will have to be done, since all elections are near each other in timing.

PC: One opinon was given by Vasant Sathre and others when Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was vice president, that all elections should be held together. Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, assemblies, otherwise, every year, elections keep on happening. This country has become a country of elections.

SQ: There is a very good reason behind this suggestion. So much of money is spend, legitimate and illegitimate work is affected, people are tired of continuous elections, if they happen together, it will be very beneficial. There will be a lot of saving, but may be constitutionally, it is not so easy.

PC: But don’t you think to reduce the influence of money power, muscle power, the elections of Lok Sabha and assemblies must be held at one time.

SQ: Time has come for a serious debate on this issue. But there is a constitutional problem. Suppose if elections happen together, and if a state assembly is dissolved, then what will one do, will you make them wait for 4.5 years.

PC: With so many criminals and strongmen fighting elections. The Supreme Court recently ordered only Lyngdoh petition. Don’t you think that if charges are framed on a person, not the charge sheet, shouldn’t they be debarred from election.

SQ: This is our demand. This is our demand not from today but from past 18 years.

PC: No government is agreeing on this.

SQ: Because there are candidates like these in every party.

PC: If there are 164 such MP’s then they will have to pass it.

SQ: Yes, yes. Please see, that is a very big reform, but I have come to know, the government has told us that it is being seriously thought over.

PC: Like discussion on Lokpal is going on for 40 years.

SQ: In the past one year, Law minister has come to the election commission three times. Earlier, in 60 years, (the law minister) had not come. That shows that there is some seriousness.

PC: If chief election commission has to be really independent, then there should be panel for appointing the election commissioner, even the leader of opposition should be there, so do you think..

SQ: It is a very good suggestion, it is a very good suggestion. Please see..

PC: Now it seems they are government nominees, the process is such, only this can happen.

SQ: But even this is true in such a big democracy, none of the people coming through this process have let down the nation. But as a matter of principle, if anything can establish neutrality in the eyes of the public is good, and hence this suggestion is good too.

PC: Are you in agreement with your predecessor on this, regarding panel for elections.

SQ: Certainly I agree.

PC: Now you are an election commissioner, who goes abroad frequently. Do a lot of people take your suggestions?

SQ: Lot many take, in fact you may not have an idea, every week we have somebody visiting us from a foreign country. There is a line of people from abroad coming to us who want to know that such a big democracy, voters of 70 countries on one side, and our on the other, they come to see what magic do we have. And elections commission of every country tries to sign an MoU with us. Many visits are for signing the MoU, at many places we are called as observers. In South Africa we were called as observers, now there is elections of the Russian president and if they call us as observer, then we ..

PC: Last question is, there is some time left for you to retire, what one thing you would want to do after taking consensus from people, tell one such agenda of yours.

SQ: Please see, we have a national voters day, and we want that every voter who is eligible should enrol, because youth don’t enrol, there is just 15 per cent enrolment among youth. And voting turnout should increase, 30, 33, per cent voting turnout

PC: That the people have to do, what would you like to do as chief election commissioner. What will you do before relinquishing this post, as a gift to the country?

SQ: There are many gifts from me, but the most important is India international institute of democracy election management, where not only our 10 crore people will be trained, but even foreign people who want to learn from us, a training institute for them. As of now we have made a improvised training institute in the election commission itself, just to start.

PC: No I want to ask, to reduce the role of strongmen, corruption, is there is anything form this that you..

SQ: My wish is that our electoral reforms, which are going from many years, and we have to give extra push, if that can be pushed through, then it will be a historic achievement.

PC: If you can deprive candidates from fighting elections against whom charges have been framed.

SQ: If somebody has criminal cases, serious, they should be debarred. Then we want internal democracy of party, transparency of political funding, their accounts should get audited and submitted yearly and put on the website so that the people can see from where the money came and where is it being spent.

PC: Till now it has not been done, we trust you that you do these things, thank you for coming to our studio.

SQ: Thank You Prabhuji !

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