New Delhi: The Election Commission of India (EC) on Wednesday let off petroleum minister M. Veerappa Moily with a reprimand for saying the government may raise the cap on supply of subsidized cooking gas to households—a statement he made ahead of the assembly elections in Gujarat.
“The Commission hereby conveys its strong disapproval of your above action and cautions you to be circumspect in future,” the EC said in a letter to Moily, a copy of which was put on the EC’s website.
Governments are not supposed to make policy statements that may influence voting behaviour ahead of polling. Gujarat votes in a two-phase election on 13 and 17 December. Results of the elections, together with that of last month’s Himachal Pradesh assembly poll, will be announced on 20 December.
The EC’s reprimand followed an explanation by Moily that the government had yet to make a decision on the supply of cooking gas and “my response to media queries... should not be treated as an announcement regarding decision of the government.” The EC had asked for an explanation from Moily.
Moily told reporters on Tuesday that the government may raise the cap on the number of subsidized liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders to households to nine from six per year.
The government had in September announced its decision to limit the number of subsidized cooking gas cylinders to households to six a year.
Moily said Wednesday that there was “widespread demand” for revisiting the cap and told reporters: “Concerns of consumers, who are mainly women, have to be addressed, today or tomorrow.”
There are 140 million LPG connections in the country, of which 99.57% are for domestic use, comprising 14.2kg LPG cylinders, according to official data. There are a total of 9,422 LPG distributors in the country, and the LPG customer population covers around 56% of the country’s total.
Following Moily’s response, the EC said: “The commission is of considered view that your above mentioned reply amounts to announcement of promise of financial grant by the government, which the model code of conduct prohibits during its operation when the election process is on.”
“Your above statement to the effect that there will be an increase in the number of subsidized gas cylinders to be supplied in a year tantamount to announcement of financial grant in the form of increased subsidy, and is clear violation both of the letter and spirit of model code of conduct. Such statement does have an impact on the minds of electors in the state of Gujarat,” the EC added.
N. Bhaskar Rao, chairman of the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), a not-for-profit research firm, said: “The EC missed an opportunity of proving their independence when it comes to government’s ministers.”
Still, the fact that the EC had taken notice of Moily’s remarks on its own is a “good thing,” Rao said.