New Delhi: Despite an Election Commission notice urging chief electoral officers to scan and upload candidates’ affidavits on their websites “not later than 24 hours” after they have been received, most states have yet to comply with this stipulation.
This lapse is significant because at the end of last week, a study by a non-profit institute found that 63 of the candidates who had filed their candidature had criminal records, and the first phase of the elections is to kick off on 16 April.
Also See Election Scan (Graphic)
These affidavits function as summaries of candidates’ criminal records as well as disclosures of their assets and are intended to give voters information they need before they enter the polling booths.
Of the 15 states voting (at least partially) in the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections, only three states— Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Kerala—have posted filed affidavits online to any significant degree. At the time of writing, the official websites of the chief electoral officers of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh were inaccessible, while that of Jammu and Kashmir did not even show the schedule for the phased elections in the state.
“This is the first time we’re specifying this kind of 24-hour timeline, but it seems now like they’re not always able to do this everywhere,” said K.F. Wilfred, Election Commission secretary. “They aren’t doing this purposely—maybe they’re just not as good at it in some places. So now we may be able to have the affidavits online in 24 hours in all places, and a delay of a day or two may have to be acceptable.”
But Anil Bairwal, national coordinator of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), points to the importance of these affidavits. “Between the announcement of the candidates and the elections, there is not much time for people to debate their candidates,” he said.
As political parties continue to nominate candidates with criminal backgrounds, the information contained in the affidavits becomes vital to the democratic process. Last week, for example, ADR and National Election Watch had found 63 declared candidates with criminal records, including 39 with “serious criminal cases, like murder, attempt to murder, robbery, theft (and) kidnapping.”
Some chief electoral officers, Bairwal added, didn’t even know that the notice about uploading affidavits within 24 hours has been issued: “We had to send a copy of it to them.”
In Orissa, Prabhakar Sahu, a spokesperson for the state’s chief electoral officer Alka Panda, confirmed that her office had not received the Election Commission’s communication, even though at least 40 nominations have been filed already. “When the letter reaches, accordingly the action will be taken,” Sahu said. “It should take only two or three hours.”
In Meghalaya, nominations began to be filed on 23 March, and the state’s chief electoral officer, Prashant Naik, said that he had received seven candidates’ nominations till date. “We do have affidavits from previous elections on our website, but not yet for these elections,” he admitted. “Tomorrow there’s a scheduled videoconference with the Election Commission to discuss this, and after that we will begin uploading them immediately.”
Hemanta Narzary, chief electoral officer of Assam, said his office would enlist the help of the National Informatics Centre, the Indian government’s Web services organization, to upload its affidavits. “We have received only one nomination over the last couple of days but there were four nominations filed today,” he said. “So we hope to start putting the affidavits on our website soon.”
Asked if the 24-hour deadline was reasonable, Narzary laughed and said: “It isn’t as if by uploading the affidavits in 24 hours, it will provide a scoop of any sort. But if the Election Commission has said it, we will try to get it done.”
The 24-hour deadline “was a positive step, although I don’t know about the logistics of it. How fast the machinery can be activated will have to be seen, because there are always teething problems in this kind of move,” said All Indian Congress Committee secretary Tom Vadakkan. “But it’s wise to become as transparent as possible. Any information—as fast as it is available—should be useful.”
Graphics by Paras Jain / Mint