[Opinion] What the law says on corrupt practices during polls

We have observed that all sorts of promises have been made over the past few months leading to the dissolution of Parliament and the announcement of a general election by the Election Commission.

Apart from these promises, gifts, whether in the form of money and other material things, were freely, openly and blatantly made to the public.

The Election Offences Act 1954 prohibits corrupt practices during an election.

The question is, when does an election start? Does it only start or commence as and when an election is announced by the Election Commission? If so, it would be arguable that all these promises and gifts are not corrupt practices “during an election” and do not therefore constitute election offences.

The above view is wrong.

Halsbury’s Laws of England states that a candidate may be found guilty of corrupt practices even before he officially becomes a candidate.

“One becomes a candidate only on filing the nomination, pursuant to the notification, but the law states that his actions prior to him becoming a candidate within the statutory definition are also to be taken note of for deciding the issue as to whether he is guilty of the offence under the election law.”

It is also noted in the book that an election has been held to begin, for the purpose of the election expenses, at periods varying from four months to 30 months before the date of the actual poll.

An excerpt of the judgement of the High Court of Punjab in Harbans Singh v Union of India would be illustrative of how the law is designed to protect the purity of election:

“In the Indian case of A Neelalohithadasan Nadar v George Mascrene, 1994 Supp (2) Supreme Court Cases 619, their lordships stated that the principle of purity of election must have its way.

“The Election Commission is not only to see that free and fair election is to be held, but the purity of election should also be observed.

“What is meant by purity of election? According to us, it means the election should not only be free from corrupt practices but also free from evil practices.

“In Ghasi Ram v Dal Singh, A.I.R. 1968 Supreme Court 1191, Hidayatullah, J, (as his lordship then was), observed:

“Election is something which must be conducted fairly. To arrange to spend money on the eve of elections in different constituencies, although for general public good, is, when all is said and done, an evil practice, even if it may not be corrupt practice.

“The dividing line between an evil practice and a corrupt practice is a very thin one.

“It should be understood that energy to do public good should be used not on the eve of elections but much earlier and that even slight evidence might change this evil practice into a corrupt practice. Payments from discretionary grants on the eve of elections should be avoided.

“From this statement of law, it is evident that activities on the eve of election should also be for the conduct of a free and fair election.

“‘Eve of election’ can only be the period prior to the date of notification of election. By the date of notification, the process of election starts. It is not with reference to the date after process of commencement of election; their lordships referred to the period ‘on the eve of election’.

“So, according to us, during the eve of election also, the Election Commission should ensure that nothing which tends to interfere with the conduct of free and fair election, takes place.

“Viewed in this light, we are of the considered view that the Election Commission should take necessary steps for conduct of free and fair election even before the date of the issue of the notification…

“On the eve of election, political parties or candidates may come forward with tempting offers to the electorate to win their favour. If such a course is allowed to be resorted to by the parties or the candidates contesting the elections, it will certainly undermine the purity of elections.”

It is for the people to judge whether our election is pure or whether our election has been tainted and tarnished by corrupt and/or evil practices.

Read the full original artcile at FMT News.

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