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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Mr Gopalkrishna Gandhi speaks on 'electoral and political reforms'

National Election Watch conducted their 7th National Conference on Electoral and Political Reforms at Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai on 12th and 13th Feb 2011.  The current Chief Election Commissioner of India and Former Chief Election Commissioners, political leaders, NGOs participated to discuss the theme.
Shri Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Shri  Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Former Governor of West Bengal and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and Rajaji inaugurated the Conference. In his speech, he traced the history and quoted how in the past, great national leaders were giving importance to electoral and political integrity.
His inspiring speech may be downloaded in the pdf format (80k) from the following link:
Please watch and listen to excerpts from the speech of Shri Gopalkrishna Gandhi (10 minutes).
The video may also be watched from the following link:
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Sunday, 13 February 2011

National Election Watch - Political party reforms -13th Feb 2011

The Second day session of the 7th National Conference of National Election Watch was held on Sunday the 13th Feb 2011 at IIT, Chennai.   The proceedings (recorded through live blogging) is given below:
The earlier 4 proceedings of the first day sessions are available in the following links.
Inaugural Session
Discussion on Electoral Integrity
Discussion on Election bound states
Media and Elections
Photo stream of the second day sessions:

Live report of Second day proceedings from Central Lecture Theatre, IIT Madras. (Reported by Arun Sudarsan, Binny Alexander and Chandni Chandran)

(Live reporting starts at 9.30 am)

POLITICAL PARTY REFORMS (Inner Party Reforms and Financial Accountability)
Chair: Prof. Jagdeep Chokkar
Panelists: Mr. T K S Elangovan (DMK), Mr. Gnana Desikan (INC), Mr. Madhavan Kutti (CPI-M), Dr. Maithreyan (AIADMK), D Raja (CPI) 

Chair: The Election Watch and ADR have been working in the scene for many years. The aim is to bring about transparency into the system. Two major issues that stick out are internal party democracy and financial accountability.

Dr. Maithreyan (MP, AIADMK): Happy to represent my party here in the Conference. The present system of first-past-post system has not allowed the party system to crystallise and stabilise. There is a large number of criminals getting elected to the representative bodies. There are large instances of cash for votes scam. Does this imply that a large section of the electorate is forced to be corrupt? In a recent study, it has been estimated that in the upcoming Tamil Nadu elections, each candidate will spend approximately 5-10 crores. For years, ECI had remained a passive institution. But with the coming of T N Seshan, the scene changed. Of late, ECI has been more successful in curbing money and muscle power during elections. Though I may be digressing from the topic of discussion, I feel the main issue is to make elections free and fair. Talking about inner party democracy may be futile since dynastic rule is the order of the day though it is a very important issue to be tackled.

Mr. Desikan (MP, INC): Good morning everyone. Reform must start from the political system itself. INC has a constitution which provides for election rules for each of the PCCs in the country. INC has made a parallel election authority at the centre and state level which has been quite successful in more than half the states in India. In a democracy, dissent is a right. One is entitled to voice his opinions. But a party member may not be allowed to air his views outside his party. The dissent has to stay within the party system to maintain the political system of India. INC allows it members in legislature to voice their opinions during Question Hour, discussions on Private bills etc. 

Mr Madhavan Kutty (CPM):  One of the things I will be talking about is the RTI act. It is an important tool for developing a democratic ethos in our country.  A public interest broadcasting system which challenges the biased mainstream media will also do much to improve the state of democracy in the nation.Decentralisation of power will also lead to less corrupt parties. Despite the increase of financial capital, our democracy teeters dangerously on the brink of collapsel. Our rural voters are voting in larger numbers than ever before - this should not make us forget the plight of the agrarian system and of farmers. Political reforms should be organic. Corporate tycoons get elected in our country with surprising regularlity. It is immature to talk of innert party democracy at this stage.We should try to influence the political environment to ensure that political parties act democratically. If we are not to succumb to a 'media'ted election, a public broadcasting system is a must.


Mr. CA S B Zaware (ICAI): I am here to present the views of the  study group of the Institute of the Chartered Accountants of India. These views after being divulged to the public, and their opinions/ reactions being factored in, will be presented to the Election Commission. Under the Income Tax act of 1961, every political party is required to submit annual returns to claim the exemption from tax. For this , accounts need to be regularly and accurately audited by chartered accountants. The party should maintain books of accounting on accrual basis.  According to me, the annual earnings is a public document and as such, should be freely available to the common man. Further, we hold that financial documents should be submitted  within 6 months after March 31st. Right now, these financial documents are prepared and audited, but not submitted or exposed for public review. This should be changed. It should also be published in English in the national newspaper and in the local languages in the regional newspapers. Source of income of political parties is sale of coupons. We are unable to track this money. Therefore, it is said that there should be a system of checks and balances. Political parties should follow accounting standards - related party disclosures are part of this. The auditee appoints the auditor now - that is, the political party. We suggest the auditor be chosen for the political party and be rotated on a regular basis to ensure independence and forestall corruption.

Mr. T.K.S Elangovan (DMK): As organisation secretary of the DMK, I will speak of inner-party democracy.  In the DMK, democracy is followed in the truest sense. Office bearers will not be changed before their alloted term of 5 years runs out, except in cases of wrongdoing. Party accounts are audited by internal auditors and then handed over to external auditors- everything is transparent. A point about dynastic rule - the party itself is a family affair. However, one particular family does not dominate. The entire DMK is a family. However, that  does not make us compromise on inner-party democracy.

D. Raja (CPI):  The country is passing through a moral crisis today. Credibility crises exist in all spheres- judiciary, bureaucracy, defense included. In such a situation, national conferences like these are very important. What is a political party? What is my party? We are a party of the working-class. Our hierarchy is not personality-centric. We are going to enter a life of contradictions. Ambedkar said : In politics we will have equality while in social and economic life we will have inequality. But in our social and economic life, we shall by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny equality. This places our democracy in peril. If this continues for long, those who suffer will blow up our democracy
  We do not recruit criminals in our ranks and when there is no question of recruiting criminals there is no question of electing criminals to our ranks.

Mr. R. Velu (PMK),Former Railway Minister : Our party policy advocates against liquor and tobacco. Campaigning on this platform lost  us the election. If we ever come to power, the first measure will be to eradicate drinking. No other political party can make this claim. Women are the ones most affected by the curse of alcohol. 
We feel that greater funds should be allocated in the budget for education and health.Focus on rural youth. 
We maintain proper accounts and submit returns on time. Financial transparency and inner party democracy are assured with the PMK.

 We now have a question and answer session with the panelists.Here are a few questions posed by the audience:

 Why are you not getting pre-approval from the Election Commision for the sale of donation coupons?
Why do we not have open book-keeping for the party's finances?
Why is service tax  not imposed on proceeds from the sale of donation coupons?
Do members get receipts for donating money?(posed to the CPI)

The panel answers:

Service tax is applicable only when services are rendered or received, therefore it is said that sale of coupons is beyond the purview of service tax.

Mr. Gnana Desikan(INC): In the future, political parties will discipline themselves. I am willing to entertain any discussion/debate on inner party democracy and auditing.Political leadership is built on psychophancy and I stand by it. Praising a leader is something I am free to do, without license or permission. We also support the amendment made by Manish Tiwari allowing MPS to disagree with their political party.

Mr. Elangovan(DMK):  Educated people who are critical of government should enter politics . The only power available to many people in India is the power to vote. To exercise this power, they take money. So power does corrupt. My party's government in TN has provided employment for 5.5 lakh people in government in the past 5 years. Political parties are essential and inseparable from the system of democracy.

Mr. Madhavan Kutty(Leftist): A political cycnism damages the political system. Politics plays an important rule even at the grassroots level. There is a kind of hypocrisy in the middle-class cynicism.Cynicism is not the answer. The Election Commission is toothless and so cannot monitor party elections.

Mr. D.Raja(CPI): Our accounts are properly audited. All donations to our party are transparent and accounted for.We have electoral tactical lines which decide our alliances. Black money debases value and undermines our electoral system. Try to understand while bashing politicians, that not all politicans are bad. Be objective in your criticism and your statements. In a democracy, it is political parties that form our government. Respect that fact - politician-bashing is futile and pointless. A politician's life is always under scrutiny. Our lives are difficult. At the end of the day, we try to serve the nation and its people.

Mr. R.Velu(PMK): No other party in the country has provided for the general secretary to be a Dalit. Ours is not a communal party. The ruling party wants to suppress opposition parties and it will adopt any tactic to achieve this end. Our party has enlightened leadership.

Moderator's closing remarks: Democracy is in peril because of the contradictions inherent in providing both social and political equality. We as citizens expect more and better governance and cannot be faulted for this.

 

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Saturday, 12 February 2011

National Election Watch - Media and Elections


MEDIA AND ELECTIONS
Chair: Srinivasa Jain, NDTV
Panelists: Bhagwan Singh (Deccan Herald), Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, V Eshwar Anand (The Tribune), K B Kothari (Rajasthan Patrika), Mr. Anil Sharma (Amar Ujala)



Mr. Jain: The entire nature of political journalism has changed in the past few years. Media has become a part of the political oligarchy. Media needs to question itself in the light of 'paid news' controversy.

Mr. Paranjoy (Freelancer, Senior Journalist, did a recent story on the mining controversy on Karnataka, Member of press council of India): Certain members of the Fourth Estate have moved to real estate. Media itself has been seen as a very lucrative business. Corruption in media has got institutionalised. The 'so called' leaders in the Media have led the media into the corrupt practices. It all started with the Page 3 phenomenon. Private treaties being signed between media companies and advertising companies. In the run up to the election there is a demand for news. The reader is duped into believing the news which was paid for. Media has lost credibility. Ordinary people believed that journalists could bring changes. Now that confidence is eroding. The corruption in media can be seen as old as hills, reference to the movie Citizen Kane and the subsequent reaction of the American media. But one must not paint the entire Media in black. There are journalists who wrote about the 2G scam and Radia tapes for years. The cleanest to come out of the  Radiia  tapes was in fact Ms.Radiia herself because she was paid to lobby for Mr. Ratan Tata and the like while the role of journalists have come under the scanner. There are good guys and not-so good guys in media. Regulatory mechanisms of the media not effective. PCI is a toothless tiger which cannot even whimper. We need to punish the black sheep in the media.  

Mr. Jain: The National Broadcasting Authority was set-up after the Mumbai attacks 2008 which acts as a self-regulatory body. It has not get into punishing the 'black-sheep'. The NBA is headed by Justice J S Verma. 

Mr. Anil Sharma (Amar Ujala): Good evening. (speaking in Hindi. rough translation given below). Apart from money and muscle power, in Bundelkhand, dacoits influenced the elections. I would like to start with an anecdote. During the panchayat elections, there has been an expenditure of 3-9 lacs for a single candidate when the ceiling for a MLA candidate is 10 lacs. Seats being bought is a regular affair in the area since politics has become a big business. BSP tickets were bought for 60 lacs. What is the source of this money? There is also a sudden increase in the candidate's wealth in most of the cases. There should be a close watch on the candidates from the moment they file their affidavits, to the end of their tenure. There are programmes for endangered species, but not for the extinction of dencent and sincere people. 

Mr. K B Kothari (Rajastan Patrika): Long term projects and campaigns. 3 month long voter awareness campaign conducted. engaging the elected members of panchayat and assembly after the elections. a pre-election dialogue with the public. Rajastan Patrika playing an effective role in the area of elections in the state. The campaigns, though, is not welcomed by all. They feel that this programme has been over-structured. Now using RTI to get information regarding the MLALAD and MPLAD funds from 32 districts. The political parties doesn't particularly like this activism.

Mr. Jain: The paper Rajastan Patrika deserves credit for taking up this pain staking campaign.

Mr. Eshwar Anand (The Tribune):  We are passing through difficult times including all pillars of a democracy. The disruption the Parliament is condemnable. The executive is also equally pathetic in functioning. The recent controversy regarding the appointment of Mr. P J Thomas as the CVC is disappointing. Judiciary is also not devoid of problems. The last resort of the people, the media, is also losing its credibility. The Paid news controversy highlights that the Editor is gradually losing control over the matter being published in the newspaper, since paid news are being handled by the Advertisements and Marketing department of a newspaper. Electronic media is also corruptible. There is a need for stronger regulation. NBA and PCI are like courts of ethics and not courts of law. Self regulation is not enough. A break less, unregulated media is a danger to the society. I commend the CEC Mr. Quraishi for setting up and Election Expenses monitoring committee which had unearthed a few paid news menaces in the recently concluded Bihar Assembly elections. Stringent measures will only help the press to redeem itself.  

Mr. Jain (to Mr. Kothari): Kothari Sab, what is the impact of the campaign initiated by the Rajastan Patrika?

Mr. Kothari: Varied response. Most of the MLAs signed the letter of commitment. We published a rank list of performance of MLAs in the assembly which made Congress unhappy. Yet, the campaign is quite successfull.

Mr. Paranjoy:Rajastan Patrika is a glowing example of a popular newspaper rejecting the paid news.

Mr. Jain: Now we are opening the session for questions.

Question: What is the opinion on the channels owned by political parties?
Eshwar Anand: People are wise enough to understand affiliations/ownership of particular channels. 

Mr. Jain: The scenario in Tamil Nadu is quite disturbing since there are no independent channels in the state. The thumb rule is that the viewer/consumer of news knows that who has what affiliations.

Question: What is your take on journalists being nominated to Rajya Sabha?

Mr. Paranjoy: In a democracy, anyone can be nominated to the Rajya Sabha. There is nothing wrong in getting nominated to the Council of states. 

Question: Advertisments have already been coming in channels and papers even before the elections are announced. What can be done to curb this?

N. Gopalaswamy: The authority of ECI begins only on the day of announcing the elections. There is no ceiling on the political parties' expenses.

Question: The number of scams being exposed these days, doesn't it trivialise the entire corruption being exposed?

Mr. Paranjoy: There cannot be any scam fatigue. 

Mr. Jain: The session ends here. Thank you for listening.

       
DAY 1 ENDS 
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National Election Watch - Election bound states - discussion

Post Lunch session was devoted for debating the problems in election bound states.  The Session was chaired by Mr N Praveen Kumar, Chief Electoral Officer of Tamil Nadu.  Dr Sudarsan, Convenor of Tamilnadu Election Watch introduced the theme.

Please read our ealier posts
http://prpoint.blogspot.com/2011/02/national-election-watch-7th-national.html
http://prpoint.blogspot.com/2011/02/national-election-watch-discussion-on.html


Mr. Maity, Panelist from West Bengal
Stresses on some of the pressing issues in the West Bengal election scene enhancing the involvement of civil society especially the youth. Information dissemination is the key area that is being stressed by the authorities.


Mr. Victor, Panelist from Puducherry
Created a peple's manifesto. How the people visualise Puducherry in the next 2-3 years. Suggestions from the people: Politicians should educate their children in government schools and get treatment only in Government Hospitals. 


Mr. Satish Babu, Panelist from Kerala
Elections to be held in April-May 2011. Party based calculations doesn't make any sense in Kerala due to the coalition politics existing in the state. Some of the main issues plaguing the Kerala elections are that pages are missing from the affidivts filed by candidates, candidates with similar names contesting in the same consitutency to mislead voters, assets of few candidates listed in multiple international currencies. There is a centralised software to feed information regarding the Kerala electoral scene. Last compilation was made during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.


Anil Bairwal, Paneslist from Bihar
Nitish Kumar's assurance that MLAs with criminal charges would not be made ministers fell flat and the Civil society protested.The multiple phases in the recent Bihar elections made it easy for the civil society to concentrate on each region quite efficiently.The political parties, ideologically opposed to giving tickets to criminals in elections, continued to do the same even after sustained protest from the people.

N Gopalaswamy comes in with a suggestion to list out the constituencies and the polling booths within the constituencies having the least polling percentages and further suggesting the NGOs to work on Voter Awareness in those areas. 

A Member of the audience suggests that the candidates submit their biodata four months prior to the election so that the people get enough time to select the best possible candidate. 

STATE ELECTION WATCH REPORTS
Chair - Dr. Ajit Ranade

Mr. Bamang Tago, Arunachal Pradesh
Disseminating information regarding the candidates'affidivits to the voting public.

Mr. Uma Prakash Ojha, Chattisgarh
Red corridor. Maoist insurgency making it dangerous for the electoral officers to perform their duties.  Special care needed. 


Mr. Sudhir Pal, Jharkhand
Pre-election voter awareness campaign conducted. Setting up of 100 panchayats as model-panchayats. Strengthening Gramsabhas.Training modules in partnership with GoI and UNDP.

Mr. Sridhar, Karnataka
Not peaceful times politically in the state. Multiple issues of obtaining and processing the affidivits. Reached out to grass root level organisations. Effective information dissemination. Triple checking of facts before putting in the public domain.

Mr. Rakesh Rajan, Madhya Pradesh
Man Andolan. People do not trust the representatives that they themselves had elected.  


Mr. Laikynmaw Buam, Meghalaya 
Local cheifs and village heads more powerful than the bureaucrats. Election watch tries to involve them in the aim of ensuring free and fair elections. Youth being mobilised despite a few of their dissatisfaction with all the candidates standing for the elections. No criminal records on any of the candidates who stood for elections though investigations suggest that at the grass roots level there is a link between the candidates and militant groups, to rig the election process. Politicians control the media.  

Mr. Ranjan Mohanty, Orissa 
Media, senior retired bureaucrats part of the Election Watch. District level work being carried out by the Election watch. People with more than 2 children cannot contest in Panchayat Eleciton. ECI should appoint Independent auditors to audit political parties. There is a lack of inner party democracy in the Political parties in the state. 

Mr. Biswendu Bhattacharjee, Tripura
Highest voter turnout in the country ranging between 87% to 93%. Highly cadre based state. The state politics is dominated by a single party. Civil society and NGOs largely under the control of politicians. 


End of Session.
Next session - Media Session chaired by Srinivasa Jain (NDTV)



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National Election Watch - Discussion on Electoral integrity


Second session was held to discuss the Électoral Integrity - A shared responsbility'.  The session was chaired by Dr S Y Quraishi (Chief Election Commissioner of India) and co-chaired by Mr N Gopalaswamy (Former Chief Election Commissioner of India)

Reported by T P Kurian, Arun Sudarsan, Binny Alexander


Mr N Gopalaswamy made opening remarks

 Media exposes. It also indulges in paid news. Less than 10 percent of illegal cash transactions in elections are exposed. Elections are a mammoth affair. We hope these six presentations cover the issue adequately and give us enough to ponder upon.


The first panelist is NL Rajah, Senior Advocate. He will be speaking on Constitutional and Legal Imperatives.

This government has begun the process of consultation and dialogue which will hopefully lead to reform. The rules of the game need to be changed so that the players change. The word 'act' as a noun is easy to achieve in India. As a verb, it is near impossible.
26 proposals sent by the ECI have not been acted upon by the government for more than a decade.
6 major issues that plague the electoral system. Some of these are:

- Decriminalisation of the electoral process: six committees already constituted to look into the matter. various civil society organisations also have gotten in the act. However, reform is slow.
Conviction of accused criminals takes years. In a country where everyone is guilty until proven innocent, criminals spend years at large in politics while waiting for the slow wheels of justice to turn. People in jail for being accused on criminal charges should be allowed to vote. If one is innocent until proven guilty this is implicit, and a failure to allow unconvicted prisioners the right to vote is a gross violation of our right to be considered innocent until proven guilty

- Negative or neutral vote. People demanding the introduction of negative or neutral vot. Ganesh Goswami report of 1990 concludes that the negative and neutral vote serves no purpose. However it is time to re-open this issue and reconsider the efficacy of such a measure. A case ispending in the Supreme court on this issue. Parties will search for the right/good candidate if the negative vote is introduced.

- Rule making power of the ECI. It is recommended that power should be given to the ECI to make rules regarding the election procedure. Do not refuse to confer to the CEC the power to make rules regarding election. Let him be empowered to expediently make rules regarding his domain.


The second panelist is P.K.Dash, DG,EC. He speaks on Election Commission measures to combat money-power.


We are in an era of coloured money. Black money, gray money.Money power is the oxygen of multi-party democracy. It is not without its cons, though.

"However deep and dense the darkness, the lamp has never accepted defeat." With this attitude one hopes to contest the insidious power of money in the forthcoming elections.
Risks of money power- uneven playing field, political exclusion, campaign debt, tainted governance.
One can be imprisoned for a year for distributing liquor and cash with a view to influence voters.
Candidates must keep true and accurate records of election expenses. Failing this, the candidate is liable to be disqualified from contesting for three years.
There exists a ceiling on expenditure for contesting candidates, but not for the political party.
Mechanisms for monitoring money in elections:
-Income tax dept. authorised to keep watch on airports, pawn brokers
- All expenses to be made through cheque. This is merely an appeal, not law.
- Call centre and complaint monitoring mechanism for each district.
-Flying squads under each police station to act immediately upon complaints.
-Static surveillance teams deployed on the roads.
- Expenditure Observers for each district
- Video surveillance teams in each constituency to record all public events and expenses related to these.
- Shadow Observation Register to record accounts
-Paid news is a disease. Media certifying teams to go through media advertising.
-Banks will be asked to report suspicious withdrawal of cash.

Individuals who require any of the information relating to the financial dealings which have been documented will be allowed to access the information.


Naresh Gupta, Former Chief Electoral Officer of Tamil Nadu now speaks on An Effective State Election Machinery

Mr. Gupta describes the processes and details that go into the making of a fair and successful election.  To strengthen the process, deploy micro-observers under the observers of the ECI. They have to be trained properly under the ECI observers. All the officers should work under the control and superintendence of the ECI. Year-round updating of Electoral processes. Electoral roll verification can be carried out in Public-Private-Parternship model.

The moderator adds that NGOs could be used as micro- observers.

Sam Rajappa, Senior Journalist chimes in with what he considers the role of media is in ensuring fair elections.

It is unrealistic to expect the media to be free of corruption. The independence of the press is violated by paid news and biased reports that seem to have infiltrated the formal structure of certain large media companies. Advertisements masquerading as news have flooded the media in recent times. The Andhra Pradesh union of journalists have estimated the market for paid news at between 300 and 400 crores.

A report on the issue was submitted to the press council and is under review. The primary victim of this fraud is the lay person who is unable to distinguish paid news from unbiased reportage. Some media houses even boast of their revenue from this spurious source with no shame. One media house has set up a media net which gives you the rates for stories, articles etc. and pass off these doctored articles as genuine news.

Positive views of voters, glossed over negative commentary, positive editorials and the like consitute the majority of this paid news. Paid news is not the only aberration in the media. Here are a couple of personal experiences. In the 1982 election in AP, there was a great deal of interest at the national level in the election. A senior official was sent to cover the election. He was offered a car, a guide and a hotel. The tab for all this was covered by the political party. Such a system compromises journalistic integrity. Reports produced under such circumstances tend to be at variance with unbiased reportage on the same issue.
Journalists are also courted by companies with offers of free liquor, coupons and the like. In such a climate, the truth becomes hazy and hard to discern.



Mr Madhav Rao, Former Chief Secretary tales about the Role of Government Servants

Free and fair elections depend on a good voter's list, the role of money and muscle power and a good election mechanism.
The voters list should be linked up with the UID and the postal office.
Money power is yet to be tackled. Government servants are literally 'government servants' as opposed to public servants.

Professor Trilochan speaks on 'Youth and Civil Society'

Ask not what the Election Machinery can do, but what we as the Civil Society can do. On a lighter note, he points to the 'young' members of the panel. The need to use technology. People have begun to understand the influence of money during elections. The link between misuse of money and bad governance should be clearly understood by the voting population. Our task as the civil society organisations is to work with the great people of India to curb the money power.

Questions from the audience - Answered by the Panelists 

S Y Quraishi: ECI has recommended to the GoI to include the 'none-of-the-above' button in the EVM. Please concentrate energy on positive campaigning. As for the legal position stands, the candidate with the most number of votes will win irrespective of the number of votes being polled in the 'none-of-the-above' button. Hence, he is sceptical of the effectiveness of the recommendation.

Political parties are public authorities. Therefore they should come under the purview of the Right to Information Act (RTI).

The reality of India is that 2-party system might not work in India because the regional parties are very strong in India. Coalition government has become the order of the day.

On a question of reserving seats for farmers, the CEC feels it is powerless to make such law though it is a relevant issue.

Biometric identification is a good idea. Linking it with the EVMs will reduce frauds.

The EVMs are stand-alone machine without Operating System which makes it un-hackable. EVM has one-time-programmeable chip which cannot be tampered with. ECI is not afraid of any debate on the issue.

Paper trail, in the form of receipts cannot be given to the voters as it will violate the secrecy of the process. This can even endager their lives.

Digital machines which has low probability of damages are more reliable than mechanical device.

On compulsory voting - It is not desirable, not possible, because compulsion and democracy don't go together. The answer here is voter education.

Youth Unite for Voter Awareness (YUVA): The Voter Awareness wing of ECI. Will be consolidated further.

Qualification for candidates? Illiterate can be wise. Debatable issue. ECI will remain neutral.

A hostelite can choose to vote either in the consituency where he is staying or his native constituency.

'Marriage parties' without the groom or bride conducted during election time.

Introducing ceiling on the expenses made by political parties being considered.

ECI looking for legal basis to prosecute candidates using paid news as an election campaign strategy since it includes an element of deceit. 

End of Floor Interaction.
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National Election Watch - 7th National Conference at IIT Chennai - Inauguration

12th Feb 2011
Inaugural Session
Live reproting from Central Lecture Theatre, Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai
Reporting by K. Srinivasan, T P Kurian, Jerin Jacob Matthew, Binny Alexander
The Conference started with Tamil Anthem and National Anthem.
Mr Trilolchan Sastry, Co-Founder of this movement and Dean of IIM, Bangalore welcomed the audience.
Mr G Devasahaytam, Convenor of Forum for Election Integrity is making the opening reforms and presenting the theme of this two-day conference.
Dr S Y Qurashi, Chief Election Commissioner of India
India has the largest population of voters in the world.  Our model code of conduct is the 'best' in the world.  
Though we blame the bureaucracy, the same bureaucracy is conducting the elctions properly.
Media is supplementing the election works.  They send the cameras to the field and bring out the election violations. Civil society has shown the maturity by analysing the works of politicians.

Some reform proposals are pending for nearly 18 to 20 years.  Election Commission has been taking up with the Government.  I also talked to Mr Veerappa Moily, the Law Minister and we decided to organise regional and national symposiums to discuss about the electoral reforms.  We have already started the symposiums at various centres.  Prime Minister will be participating int he National Symposium.  Then, the final conclusion will be brought to the Parliament.

First item of the agenda is to bar criminals from contesting elections.Political parties are opposing this.  They fear this will be a short-cut for the opposing parties to frame charges and to bar the politicians from contesting elections. We are trying to get a via-media solutions.  Only rapes, murder will be taken into consideration.

Political parties need to be more transparent in their source of income.  '"Elections are becoming the biggest source of corruption".  People are asking what Election is doing.   Increasing the expenditure is not a solution. 
If a party puts up a criminal candidate, other parties are hesitant to put up another good candidate.  Same way  is for money also.  Level playing is the mantra of election commission. 

Many people are suggesting 'state funding'.  I am sceptical about this.  
We are seeking ban of advertisments six months in advance of the elections.  We also suggest advertisements and door to door campaign should be banned in the last 48 hours before the election.  That is the time, where money changes.  "48 hours should be allowed to the voters to decide, after two weeks of hectic campaign".

Opinion polls interfere with free and fair poll.  Paid news is another main challenge.  They need to be banned. 

Mr Gopalakrishna Gandhi, Former Governor of West Bengal  (He is the grand son of Mahatma Gandhi and Rajaji)

In the pre-independent India, elections were held with more integrity.  

Rajaji wrote 25 years before the freedom, predicted that injustice and efficiency of governance after independence, may make the people to think that earlier regime was better.  This has become true now.

In 1937, When Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Sastri went for election campaign, they had to take tea in a railway platform and they did not have enourgh money.  This has been written by Lal Bahadur Sastry.

Now, black money with white money made the whole system 'grey'.  Corporate funding has made independent candidates suffer.  

Çurrencies coming to election scene in trucks and vehicles is causing serious concern. 

In 1957, Tata Steel wanted to make contributions to political parties.  Even the Courts held at that time, íntegrity of voters are more important.  Voters should refuse to accept any consideration for their votes.  


Organisations and NGOs who are watching elections, should maintain the highest probity and they should not accept foreign donations.  Media needs soul  searching.

NGOs should reward and award the candidates, whether they win or lose, for their electoral conduct.  Election Commission should also ensure that the environment pollution is not made by the candidates during the election campaign. 
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