New Delhi: A parliamentary panel has suggested according statutory status to the Election Commission’s (EC) model code of conduct by bringing it under the Representation of the People Act (RPA), but the move may dilute the power of the commission to suspend and cancel recognition of political parties.
Shantaram Naik, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice, after presenting the report in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, told reporters that an EC order regulating the model code should be incorporated in the RPA.
Status change: Chairman of the standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice, Shantaram Naik.
“The code, which was voluntary in nature once, has not remained so after insertion of para 16 A in the election symbols (reservation and allotment) order, 1968, which authorizes EC to suspend or withdraw the recognition of political parties in case of violation of code of conduct. Besides, some of the paras in the code attract penal provisions in other laws,” he said.
The panel said the power to cancel the registration of a party is substantive and “therefore, should not be provided or regulated for under an order of the commission. It should either be part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, or rules framed under it,” the report said, adding, “Remedial legal steps are required to be taken in this regard.” The EC declined to comment.
But officials in India’s apex electoral body said that in the absence of the order, the model code will lose its relevance.
“This is a move to curb the power of the commission. The basic purpose of having a model code of conduct will be defied if there is no provision to enforce it,” said an official, who did not want to be identified. “The apprehension of political leaders is unfounded as we have never used the provisions to either suspend or withdraw the recognition of any political party.”
EC has at the most only reprimanded political leaders for violating the code of conduct during polls, the official said.
“If we put the model conduct of code under the RPA, it will open a door for legal cases. Then there will be cases that will go from the lower court to the Supreme Court. This will be a lengthy process and chances are it could be widely misused,” the official added.
Union law minister Salman Khurshid had faced censure from EC in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in February-March for violating the model code of conduct. Khurshid later dared EC to take action against him, which forced it to seek President Pratibha Patil’s intervention.
N. Bhaskara Rao, a psephologist and political analyst, said there should be no change in the electoral process.
“It should remain as it is. The EC order makes it obligatory on the part of the political leaders to follow the model code of conduct. So it is necessary to have this order, to conduct free and fair elections,” he said. “Otherwise, EC will lose it prerogative in the poll process.”
Another psephologist, G.V.L. Narasima Rao, said rules should not be made for the convenience of EC.
“Any proposed changes that make the process of elections clear and credible are welcome. Changes should not be made only from this perspective and rules should not be framed for convenience and inconvenience of EC,” he said.