The government has notified new rules making it mandatory for election contestants to disclose ‘sources of income’ apart from details of assets. But will this have any impact?
Take the case of Mr. Pallab Lochan Das, a minister in the current Assam government whose assets increased by more than 5000% from 2011 to 2016. His assets as declared in the affidavit filed before the 2011 election were Rs 1 lakh. But as per the affidavit filed before the 2016 elections, his assets increased to Rs 54.55 lakh, an increase of more than 5000%. But there is no way of ascertaining whether this increase is legitimate since the sources of income need not be disclosed as per the existing rules. All this might change with the new rules notified by the government recently. As per the new rules, all election contestants will now have to disclose ‘Source of Income’ apart from declaring assets. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has now brought this change to the notice all the Chief Electoral Officers (CEOs) of states.
The Existing rules
As per the existing rules, candidates contesting the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha/Assembly/Council elections will have to submit the nomination paper in a specified format. Contestants have to file an affidavit in form 26 disclosing the following information.
- Particulars relating to criminal antecedents, if any, (cases of convictions and all pending cases)
- Details of PAN and status of filing of Income tax return of self, spouse and dependents
- Details of the assets (movable and immovable etc.)
- Liabilities/dues of candidate, spouse and all dependents to government and public financial institutions
- Details of profession or occupation of candidate and spouse
- Highest educational qualification of the candidate
Since the rules do not ask for sources of income, it was impossible to ascertain astronomical rise in assets of some candidates.
The New rules
A Lucknow based NGO ‘Lok Prahari’ filed a PIL (WP (Civil) 784/2015) in the Supreme Court (SC) with a plea that sources of income of the candidate, spouse and dependents must also be disclosed in the affidavit. The SC in 2016 had issued notices both to the central government and the ECI. The ECI had written to the government last year recommending a change in the existing rules.
The government has now notified new rules, just before the next hearing in the SC. As per the new rules, all election contestants have to disclose the following apart from the existing information.
- Whether the candidate is holding any office of profit under the Government of India or State Government along with the details of the office held.
- Whether the candidate has been declared insolvent by any Court and if he has been discharged from such insolvency.
- Whether the candidate is under allegiance or adherence to any foreign country along with the details if any.
- Whether the candidate has been disqualified under section 8A of the RP Act by an order of the President and the period of disqualification if any.
- Whether the candidate was dismissed for corruption or for disloyalty while holding office under the Government of India or the Government of any State and the details of such dismissal if any.
- Whether the candidate has any subsisting contract(s) with the Government either in individual capacity or by trust or partnership in which the candidate has a share for supply of any goods to Government or for execution of works undertaken by the government with the details of such contracts.
- Whether the candidate is a managing agent, or manager or Secretary of any company or Corporation (other than a cooperative society) in which the Central Government or State Government has not less than 25% share along with the details.
- Whether the candidate has been disqualified by the ECI under section 10A of the RP act along with the details of such disqualification.
The most important change of course is the addition of a new clause in form 26 that makes it mandatory for the disclosure of sources of income of both the contestant and his spouse. This is to be done in addition to the disclosure of assets and the profession of both the contestant & spouse.
Will this have any impact?
As per a report by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), the average asset value of the MPs who re-contested in 2014 increased by over 8 crores (more than doubled) from 2009. Since revealing source of income was not mandatory, there was no way of ascertaining if this rise in assets is legal. With this change, the source of income will be in the public domain. Citizens can now check if the source of income is good enough to explain the rise in a candidate’s assets.
While, the current change is an important one that is long overdue, it still leaves room for manipulation. Many contestants are known to acquire assets or hold shares etc. in the name of the dependents. Exemption of the dependents from disclosure of the source of income is a glaring loophole that might be misused by contestants.
The general secretary of Lok Prahari who filed this PIL,Mr. S. N. Shukla (a retired IAS officer) said that they had asked for the sources of income of the candidate, spouse and all the dependents to be disclosed. He is hopeful that the SC will intervene.
Moreover, the current change will have an impact only when the other wings of the government like the IT department take note of increase in assets of candidates and source of income to cross check it with their IT returns. Any glaring differences should be immediately acted upon.
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