Friday, March 14, 2014

Model Code of Conduct & its Evolution

28-February-2014 16:39 IST
Special Feature on General Elections-2014
Free and fair elections form the bed rock of democracy. This envisages a level playing field for the contestants and an equal opportunity for all parties for presenting their policies and programmes to voters.  In this context the Model Code of Conduct(MCC) gains relevance. The MCC intends to provide a level playing field for all political parties, keep the campaign fair and healthy, avoid clashes and conflicts between parties, and ensure peace and order. It aims to ensure that the ruling party, either at the Centre or in the states, does not misuse its official position to gain an unfair advantage in an election. This instrument is a major contribution of Indian electoral system to the cause of democracy.
The MCC is a set of norms for conduct and behavior on the part of the Parties and candidates, in particular. The uniqueness of the MCC is the fact that this was a document that originated and evolved with the consensus of the political parties. The origin of the MCC dates back to 1960 when the MCC started as a small set of Dos and Don’ts for the Assembly election in Kerala in 1960. The Code covered conducting of election meetings/processions, speeches, slogans, posters and placards (CEC-Shri K.V.K.Sundaram). In 1962 Lok Sabha General Elections, the Commission circulated this code to all the recognized political parties and the State Governments were requested to secure the acceptance of the Code by the Parties. (CEC-Shri K.V.K.Sundaram). Report received after the 1962 general election showed that the Code was followed by and large. In 1967, the Code was followed in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.(CEC-Shri K.V.K.Sundaram).
Evolution of the MCC and its implementation since 1967

·     In 1968, the Election Commission held meetings with political parties at State level and circulated the Code of Conduct to observe minimum standard of behavior to ensure free and fair elections. (CEC-Shri S.P. Sen Verma)
·     In 1971-72, during General Election to the House of the People/State Legislative Assemblies the Commission circulated the Code again.  (CEC-Shri S.P. Sen Verma)
·     At the time of general elections to some State Assemblies in 1974, the Commission issued the code of conduct to the political parties in those States.
The Commission also suggested constituting committees at district level headed by the District Collector and comprising representatives of political parties as members for considering cases of violation of the code and ensuring its compliance by all parties and candidates.
·     For the 1977 Lok Sabha general election, the Code was again circulated to the political parties. (CEC-Shri T. Swaminathan).
·     In 1979, Election Commission, in consultation with the political parties further amplified the code, adding a new Section placing restrictions on the “Party in power” so as to prevent cases of abuse of position of power to get undue advantage over other parties and candidates. (CEC-Shri S.L.Shakhdar)
·     In 1991, the code was consolidated and re-issued in its present form.  (CEC-Shri T.N.Seshan).
·     The present code contains guidelines for general conduct of political parties and candidates (no attack on private life, no appeal to communal feelings, discipline and decorum in meetings, processions, guidelines for party in power – official machinery and facilities not to be used for electioneering, prohibition against Ministers and other authorities in announcing grants, new schemes etc).
·     Ministers and those holding public offices are not allowed to combine official visits with electioneering tours.
·     Issue of advertisements at the cost of public exchequer is prohibited.
·     Grants, new schemes / projects cannot be announced. Even the schemes that may have been announced before the MCC came into force, but that has not actually taken off in terms of implementation on field are also required to be put on hold.
·     It is through such restrictions that the advantage of being in power is blunted and the contestants get the opportunity to fight on more or less equal terms.
·     MCC has got the judicial recognition of the highest court of land. The dispute over the date when the Model Code of Conduct should come into force -- the issuance of the press release by EC announcing the poll dates or the date of actual notification in this regard was resolved in the Union of India Vs. Harbans Sigh Jalal and Others [SLP (Civil) No.22724 of 1997)]  decided on 26.04.2001. The apex court gave the ruling that the Code of Conduct would come into force the moment the Commission issues the press release, which precedes the notification by a good two weeks. This ruling lay at rest the controversy related to the dates of enforcement of MCC. Thus the MCC remains in force from the date of announcement of elections till the completion of elections.

Legal Status for Model Code: Views of the Election Commission
There is an opinion in certain quarters for providing legal status to MCC. The Election Commission has, however, taken a stand against granting of such status to MCC. According to the Commission bringing the MCC on the statute book will only be counter-productive. In our country, elections are conducted within a very limited time span according to a well laid down schedule. Normally, a general election in a State is completed in about 45 days, from the day of announcement of the election schedule by the Commission.  Thus, the expedition and promptness in dealing with the cases of violation of the model code of conduct is of the essence.  If no timely action is taken to curb the violations and against the violators of the model code during the limited period when the election process is on, the whole significance of the MCC would be lost and the violator would be able to reap the benefit of such violation. If the model code of conduct is converted into a law, this would mean that a complaint would lie to the police/Magistrate. The procedures involved in judicial proceedings being what they are, a decision on such complaints would most likely come only long after the election is completed.  

MCC is not a Hindrance to Developmental activities
One often gets to hear the complaint that the MCC is coming in the way of developmental activities. However, even during the short period when MCC is in operation, the ongoing development activities are not stopped and are allowed to proceed unhindered, and only the new projects, etc. which have not taken off on the ground that have to  be deferred till the completion of elections.  If there is any work that cannot wait for any reason (relief work on account of any calamity, etc), the matter can be referred to the Commission for clearance.

It is apt to refer to the following passage from a  very recent Judgment (dated 16.02.2012) of the Allahabad High Court (Lucknow Bench) in Writ Petition No. 1361 of 2012 (Dr. Nutan Thakur Vs. Election Commission of India):

‘It shall not be out of place to mention that after election, peoples’ representatives discharge their obligation almost for a period of five years.  The elections are held at the fag end of their tenure unless the assembly or Parliament is suspended or dissolved earlier.  While holding the office, it is always obligatory on the part of the peoples’ representative to discharge their obligation honestly and fairly to serve the nation. In case they failed to discharge their obligation during their entire term while in office or in opposition, then making statement as a measure of allurement or appeasement to the peoples after issuance of Election Notification, shall be nothing but an instance of unfair practice on their part. (PIB Features.)
*Inputs from PIB Election Cell team.

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