Make paid news cognizable offence: Quraishi
New Delhi: As he demits office on Sunday, happy and contended, outgoing Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi hopes that paid news, which of late has emerged as a big threat to free and fair elections, will be made a cognizable offence.
Upon completing six eventful years in the Commission, Quraishi also hopes that some major electoral reforms pending for almost two decades will now become a reality soon.
"We have taken some concrete steps, which have already paid dividends. We have been able to contain it (paid news) substantially. We have now recommended as electoral reforms that it should be made a cognizable offence. So, when the reform proposals go through that will be a very substantive step," he told a news agency.
In a wide-ranging interview, he also rejected suggestions of giving statutory powers to the Model Code of Conduct, arguing that "upsetting it (current system) will have unwelcome repercussions".
On suggestions for having a collegium for appointment of the CEC, Quraishi suggested a different formulation, saying a mechanism of credible consultations be set up for appointment of Election Commissioners instead, and not the CEC.
The ECs` appointment be made through wider selection and the senior-most among them be made the chief as a rule, he said.
The following are the excerpts from the interview with him.
Q. You are demitting office of the CEC after serving the poll body for six years. Can you sum up your experience and legacy?
A. It has been both demanding and fulfilling. The responsibility entrusted by the Constitution, the faith of the people, the scale of operations and the consequences of a mistake made it a challenge for the incumbent.
Rising to this challenge is impossible without the support of one and all. I am happy if I have made some contribution to the legacy that has reinforced Indian democracy. As Election Commissioner, I played my part in several memorable elections including the national elections in 2009.
Fortunately during my tenure as the CEC, the general elections in the 11 states including some seriously dificult ones, have been very peaceful, free and fair. A great additional satisfaction is that we could usher in a participation revolution in these elections through a pioneering Systematic Voters` Education Programme.
The National Voters` Day of January 25, meant to enroll newly eligible youth, has become one of the largest youth empowerment events of the world in a short time. We began a belated but determined fight against money power in elections and this has created an impact already.
So, also ours was the maiden regulatory action in the country against the menace of paid news. Sufficient push was given to electoral reforms and the day is not far when these will see the light of the day.
The setting up of the India International Institute of Democracy and Election Management (IIDEM), a training and resource centre, in a record time, is something to be really proud of. ECI has taken proactive steps to accept its due role as leader in global collaboration and exchange of best practices in election management and related democratic processes. It`s a very happy count at the end of the day in less than two years.
Q. Do you think you left some unfinished agenda?
A. There would always be some unfinished agenda, some works in progress.
Q. You have been pro-active in your career as bureaucrat. What are your plans now?
A. There is a lot to share with family, friends and the wider society. It is never a dull day, if your mind is alive. I do have a couple of writing projects which will keep me fully occupied.
Q. Your views on suggestions for giving statutory powers to Model Code of Conduct, particularly when a Parliamentary Standing Committee has also pushed for it?
A. MCC has been of great help in election management, especially in maintaining level playing field. Its usefulness comes from the consensus of political parties and the quickness of its effect. We know how impractical it would be to seek legal remedies in case of a MCC violation, when one is required to handle a live situation during the election process. It is a great instrument for peaceful and fair elections. Upsetting it will have unwelcome repercussions.
Q. The last assembly elections have been controversial, with the EC having face-offs with some ministers. A section believes you let them off lightly. What do you say?
A. I would not say that the elections have been controversial. Enforcement makes news and evokes different reactions from competing parties. We were neither too soft nor too harsh; our actions were just right. The application of the Code is done uniformly, based on the facts of a case. It`s the Commission`s responsibility to enforce MCC in letter and spirit. We expect everyone to cooperate.
Q. Your views on electoral reforms not being successful in bringing them about?
A. A lot of spadework has been done. The Commission had very appreciatively joined an exercise at the suggestion of the then Union Law Minister, Mr (M Veerappa) Moily for nationwide consultations for several months towards framing of a more mature legislation.
Issues like criminalisation of politics, financing of elections, conduct and better management of elections, regulating political parties, auditing of finances of political parties, adjudication of elections disputes and review of anti-defection law, are of vital importance to us. I am hopeful about some major electoral reforms becoming a reality soon.
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