The Himachal Pradesh & Gujarat Assembly elections are the first major elections to be held after the change in rules where a contesting candidate has to disclose the sources of income in addition to information on income & assets. Do these disclosures serve the purpose?
The Government of India had notified new rules in April 2017 making important additions to the disclosures to be made by candidates contesting the Lok Sabha, Assembly and other state or national elections. A long pending demand to include the source of income of the candidates as a part of the disclosure was met through the changes. The Himachal Pradesh & Gujarat elections are the first major elections to take place after these changes were notified. Are these changes good enough? What do the affidavits tell us now?
What were the major changes?
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 case is currently reserved for judgment.
In April this year, the government had notified new rules that mandate all election contestants 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. The changes also mandate that social media accounts of all contesting candidates be disclosed in the affidavits.
How do the affidavits look now?
Factly looked at the affidavits filed by the Chief Ministerial candidates of both the BJP & the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, Mr. Prem Kumar Dhumal & Mr. Virbhadra Singh. Congress’s Virbhadra Singh mentioned salary, bank interest and agriculture/horticulture as his sources of income while his spouse’s sources of income include interest, pension & agriculture/horticulture.BJP’s Prem Kumar Dhumal also mentioned salary & interest on savings as his sources of income while his spouse’s sources of income are mentioned as interest on savings & share holdings.
The richest candidate in the Himachal Pradesh elections Balbir Singh Verma of the BJP mentioned business, agriculture, horticulture, rent & hotel as his sources of income. Congress’s Vikramaditya Singh, son of the present CM Virbhadra Singh and the 2nd richest candidate in Himachal elections mentioned agriculture, horticulture & business as his sources of income.
It has to be noted that none of the affidavits had other information as notified in April 2017.
Are these changes enough?
For starters, the sources of income might provide the citizens an opportunity to understand whether the value of assets accumulated by these candidates are commensurate to their income. But the real change will be when the relevant agencies work in co-ordination with each other to assess the value of assets of a candidate, increase in assets from previous elections and whether these are commensurate to their sources of income. Unless that happens, these disclosures will become a mere formality.