New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Wednesday proposed a ban on publishing of exit polls till after the conclusion of all phases of polling, a decision welcomed by all major political parties, including the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.
The government will now have to move legislation that will amend the Representation of the People Act, 1951, to implement the decision.
“Restriction on telecasting of exit polls would enable the voters to exercise their right to vote without being influenced by the projection of telecast after one phase of voting is over and other phases of voting are yet to be completed,” finance minister P. Chidambaram told reporters while briefing them on cabinet decisions.
The ruling Congress party argued that the move was neither an attempt to curtail the freedom of the press nor censure the media. “Our experience (with exit polls) has been fairly mixed. A need was felt that exit polls, which is an essence of democracy, should not affect the other polls in a phase-wise election,” said Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari.
BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said his party favoured the decision. “But the timing of the announcement indicates that the Congress wants an early election,” he added.
The Left parties also supported the move. “There is rationale behind the decision,” said Communist Party of India leader D. Raja.
N. Bhaskara Rao of the Centre for Media Studies, who pioneered opinion polls in India in the early 1970s, said, “It is an appropriate move for the given scenario. The exit polls these days have no transparency and they do not reveal who funds them, how it was done.”
In other decisions, the cabinet gave its approval for declaration of the domestic airport at Tirupati as an international airport. Chidambaram said that the decision would offer improved air connectivity and a wider choice of services at competitive cost.
The cabinet also gave approval for the Judges (Inquiry) Amendment Bill, 2008, in Parliament. “This is in consonance with the recommendations made by the parliamentary standing committee,” said Chidambaram. The Bill would mandate the setting up of a National Judicial Council with powers to investigate complaints and recommend action against judges of the higher judiciary.
The government, just ahead of key elections in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, has also decided to end dereservation of posts meant for scheduled castes and tribes in Central government jobs.
Chidambaram said the cabinet gave its nod to enact the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation in Posts and Services) Bill, 2008. “Posts reserved for SCs and STs will not be dereserved and they (vacancies) will be carried over,” he said, adding that the proposed Bill would contain provisions for imposing penalties on offices that do not implement the job quota.