Election Commission Does Not Maintain Records of Violations of Model Code of Conduct!
Recently, the central information commission (CIC) has shown its 'utmost displeasure' at the election commission of India (ECI) for not responding to an RTI request on the status of representations made by several eminent personalities; directing it to submit a written explanation for ignoring the information.
 
Signed by stalwart former bureaucrats, educationists and technical professionals, the RTI application by former IAS officer MG Devasahayam, pertained to the status of the letter which questioned the credibility of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines during elections.
 
Now, an RTI application filed by Mumbai-based activist Jeetendra Ghadge, seeking information on the details of penal actions taken against members of Parliament (MPs) since 2014, for various violations, including breaches of the model code of conduct, has been thrown out of the ECI’s window. 
 
Shockingly, the ECI, mandated to conduct and regulate elections in the country, confessed that it does not possess compiled data on notices issued to MPs and the subsequent actions taken against them. 
 
The public information officer (PIO) of the ECI has replied that it is too overworked to compile the information, citing Section 7(9) of the RTI Act. 
 
CPIO Shilpi Srivastava replied that “The information sought by you is not available in compiled form and compilation of the information will disproportionately divert the resources of the Commission. You may refer to Section 7 (9) of the RTI Act.”
 
As per Section 7 (9) of the RTI Act, “(9) An information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question.”
 
States Mr Ghadge, “Article 324 of the Constitution vests the election commission with the authority to supervise, direct, and control elections. Despite its crucial role in upholding the integrity of the electoral process, the ECI appears to lack basic record-keeping regarding notices and actions pertaining to MPs, which is of serious concern.”
 
Mr Ghadge added, “At a time when candidates and political parties are resorting to hate speeches, making derogatory remarks, and attempting to sow divisions in society along religious and caste lines, the election commission's failure to take concrete actions beyond issuing notices is alarming. It should prioritise public interest and transparency by promptly publishing all relevant data.”
 
Interestingly, the ECI has the cVIGIL web platform (Link to access the portal: https://cvigil.eci.gov.in/).  cVIGIL empowers citizens to report violations like bribery, gifts, liquor distribution and unauthorised loudspeaker use during elections through a simple mobile app. When citizens capture live photos or videos of violations, the election machinery swiftly responds, using the evidence provided. Each cVIGIL case is addressed and responded to within a 100-minute timeline, ensuring prompt action on reported violations.
 
cVIGIL provides a dashboard accessible to ECI officials such as chief electoral officers (CEO), district electoral officers (DEO), and returning officers (RO), offering various role-based features. The DEO's control room (DCC) manages complaints and assigns the nearest flying squad team (FST) to address them. ROs can view complaint details and actions taken by FSTs, ultimately making final decisions such as dropping, disposing, or escalating cases after verifying all details.
 
Despite its digital progress, the ECI is opaque in providing information under RTI which is truly serious. How will voters have confidence in the results?
 
RTI application filed by Mr Ghadge:
  • Who were the Lok Sabha election candidates and their respective political parties in the 2014 and 2019 general elections who received show-cause notices for alleged violations of the model code of conduct for political parties and candidates?
  • What are the issuance dates and current statuses of the show-cause notices mentioned in question 1?
  • What is the current status of the notices issued to the members of Parliament referred to in question 1?
  • Provide a brief overview of any punitive actions taken against them by the Election Commission of India since January 1, 2014, until now?…..
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte and is the author of "The Mighty Fall".)

 

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