Chief Election Commissioner Dr SY Quraishi speaks at seminar organised by Moneylife Foundation and V Citizens Action Network
“People say that if elections are sponsored by states, it will make the polls free. That is not going to happen, “said Dr SY Quraishi, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). He was speaking at a seminar titled “Democracy at Crossroads—Need for Electoral Reforms”, organised by Moneylife Foundation and V Citizens Action Network(VCAN).
Dr Quraishi said that the issue of unregulated money flow in elections is a pressing one. He said, “No candidate is spending white money, but black money. I don’t know how state sponsorship of elections will solve the problem. The moment a minister comes into power, his target is to recover the money he spent in the election. He convinces the bureaucracy to help him, and the people have to pay for them.”
The CEC said, “Speed democracy is not the answer. It is easy to call people out in the streets, but very difficult to send them back. You cannot forsake Parliamentary democracy.” However, he said that many small changes could be made which can make elections fair and free from corruption.
He said that it is important to get rid of criminals in elections. Dr Quraishi said, “People ask me, why can’t you debar a candidate from contesting. We cannot do that. The law must debar them.” Dr Quraishi said, “The law says is a person is innocent until proven guilty. I would like to ask, if fundamental rights are curtailed for under-trials, why not stop politicians who have criminal cases pending against them from voting and contesting in elections; which are not fundamental rights?”
Dr Quraishi said that people who file false affidavits must be punished. He also said that there must be a way to deregister parties, which are often only shell organisations with no membership and act as fronts for dubious businesses.
He talked about the Model Code of Conduct for the election candidates, and said that the punitive measures against defaulting candidates must be raised. “For example, if the punishment for giving false information was Rs500 in 1950, it must be raised to Rs20 lakh now,” he said.
“One of our officers once discovered that someone had thrown a lavish ‘marriage’ party for voters without the bride and groom, because otherwise, the cash was being seized,” he recounted. He said how money is transferred in ambulances, funeral vans, etc and how the electoral officers spotted them and seized cash.
He said, “We want transparency in the financial transactions for elections and independent auditing of accounts of candidates. We have asked the Chartered Accountants Association of India to come up with auditing standards, and I am happy to say that they have done so.”
He said, “The bureaucracy is everyone’s whipping post. But in India, entire elections are conducted by the bureaucracy, and when they are under the Election Commission, they deliver.” He talked about the various measures the Election Commission has taken to ensure fair polling. Dr Quraishi said how use of muscle power was curtailed by the Election Commission, like constant surveillance of some politicians and deployment of forces to stop violence.
The latter often led to tussles with the home ministry; because it involved making the police of every station being at the disposal of the CEC and to take orders only form the CEC; and deployment of paramilitary forces from private companies. He said, “Transfer of election officers six months before the polls must be banned. It is necessary to ensure free polling and stop states’ interference.”
He also talked about voters’ apathy. “What people don’t understand is the lower the turn-out, the easier it is for the criminals and dishonest candidates to win.” He talked about how use of face recognition softwares, in places like Manipur, to detect bogus voters had significantly brought down number of people who vote multiple times.
Dr Quraishi also talked about media coverage of elections. He said, “Media should show whether candidates are violating the code, because the government cannot be ubiquitous. It has worked beautifully.” He recounted how a candidate engaging in hate speech was pulled up by the Election Commission after it was shown on the television.” However, he said that paid news is a troubling issue which needs to be uprooted. Dr Quraishi said that government advertisements six months prior to elections must be banned, because it is wastage of public expenditure.
“When people say we should take lessons from other countries like USA or UK, I would remind them that while they took more than century to let women vote, India had granted that right from day one. Who is to teach whom?” He said that measures which can be adopted by other countries are not possible in a country as populated as India. “But through voters’ education and peaceful polling, we see very good turnouts and fair results. Peaceful polling has made sure that in the recently concluded state elections, more women than men came out to vote and decided the electorate.”
He said, “Lastly, I would say that the Election Commission must be given more independence. Just like the chief election commissioner cannot be removed from his post apart from impeachment, the same immunity must be extended to the other two commissioners. The government cannot make up its mind about debarring criminals from contesting in elections, and ultimately becoming ministers, but what stops them from strengthening the position of the commission?” For the same reason, he said that the funding of the Election Commission should come from the Consolidated Fund of India and be independent.
Dr Quraishi also talked about the Right to Reject. “If thousand people go to vote, and 999 people decide to reject, that one person, without even any voting will be the winner.”
The event was supported by around 24 non-governmental organisations (NGO) such as Indian Against Corruption, Karmayog, Loksatta Party and Janhit Manch among others. Eminent citizen activists spoke on various issues, and presented their memoranda to Dr Quraishi, which talked about the various issues that concern citizens while voting and the need for a better electoral process.
The fear of GAAR had spooked stock markets which tanked 2% on Monday on concerns that all short-term capital gains made by FII and P-Note investments would be taxed. The Sensex, however, recovered today rising over 200 points
New Delhi: Amidst fears that foreign institutional investors (FIIs) may be taxed for short-term capital gains in stock markets, the government today said it will examine and modify the General Anti Avoidance Rules (GAAR) if required, reports PTI.
“I will examine and modify GAAR as and when required. This is essential for anti-avoidance,” Mr Mukherjee said in Parliament today.
In his budget for 2012-13, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had said that the government wanted to introduce GAAR in order to “counter aggressive tax avoidance schemes, while ensuring that it is used only in appropriate cases, by enabling a review by a GAAR panel”.
Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) chairman UK Sinha had said yesterday the government “is going to have a new look at tax avoidance, so they are going to work in that way”.
The fear of GAAR had spooked stock markets which tanked 2% on Monday on concerns that all short-term capital gains made by FII and P-Note investments would be taxed. The Sensex, however, recovered today rising over 200 points.
Meanwhile, finance ministry sources seeking to allay fears that Participatory Notes—an instrument through which FIIs unregistered with SEBI invest in stock markets—said that the income tax (I-T) department will have to first prove the intention of avoidance before making GAAR applicable.
“GAAR is not created to target any class of financial instruments. The onus of proving tax avoidance lies mainly with the government and partially on the assessee,” sources said.
“All benefits which a person is entitled in a DTAA (Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement) treaty can be overruled or denied if GAAR is invoked,” sources said.
Provisions of GAAR will be applicable from 1st April and not with retrospective effect.
With a major cash-crunch leading to delayed payments of salaries and other dues for over three months, a spokesperson said the airline was putting in place a “holding plan” pending re-capitalisation and “there are several stations to which operations have been temporarily suspended”
New Delhi: Ailing Kingfisher Airlines on Tuesday said it has temporarily suspended operations from several major cities, including Kolkata and Hyderabad, and has asked nearly half of its 7,000-odd employees to stay at home till it managed to infuse fresh funds, reports PTI.
The airline, burdened by a debt of over Rs7,000 crore, also did not rule out laying off some staff saying a decision on the issue would depend on various decisions to be taken by the government and its bankers about funding and related issues.
With a major cash-crunch leading to delayed payments of salaries and other dues for over three months, a spokesperson said the airline was putting in place a “holding plan” pending re-capitalisation and “there are several stations to which operations have been temporarily suspended”.
“Since we could resume operations after getting re- capitalised, most staff at these stations have been asked to stay at home whilst remaining on the company's rolls,” an airline spokesperson said.
Airline sources said the cash-strapped carrier, which used to fly to about 60 destinations, would now fly to less than 30 cities. Among the destinations from where operations were being temporarily suspended were Kolkata, Hyderabad, Patna, Lucknow, Thiruvananthapuram and Bhubaneswar.
They said that between 40%-50% of about 7,000 staff have been asked to stay at home, but they would remain on the Kingfisher rolls.
Regarding speculation about the airline’s plans to retrench some staff, the spokesperson said “we are in a ‘holding’ pattern right now and are waiting for various decisions from the government and our consortium of bankers on the FDI (foreign direct investment) policy, working capital funding, etc. All of these will have a major impact on the staffing decisions we will have to make.”
The Kingfisher spokesperson said the airline has begun this year’s summer schedule by operating approximately 120 daily flights with 20 dedicated aircraft.
For the past two months, it was flying 28 planes and 140 flights as part of a curtailed winter schedule as against 400 daily flights with 64 aircraft it had proposed earlier.
Kingfisher has also paid Rs44 crore towards TDS arrears, which was due on or before 27th March, as directed by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal in Bangalore, the spokesperson said.
“Our keen intent is to get re-capitalised and to bounce back as a major player in civil aviation... We will also protect the interests of all stakeholders, suppliers and service providers as an integral part of our recapitalization plans,” he said.
A consortium of 13 PSU banks, including State Bank of India, have an exposure of Rs5,608.07 crore to Kingfisher as on February this year, including Rs1,408.45 crore for SBI alone. The airline has an accumulated loss of over Rs6,000 crore.