While a 10% increase in the expenditure limit of election candidates has been notified as a temporary measure to meet increased digital campaign expenses amid the pandemic, the Election Commission of India is now looking to review the issue more holistically.
The poll panel has set up a committeunder its Director General Umesh Sinha and ex Indian Revenue Service officer Harish Kumar to examine the existing expenditure limits for election candidates in view of the increase in number of electors and rise in Cost Inflation Index, among other factors.
The expenditure limit- amount an election candidate can legally spend for his election campaign and has to account for—was last revised in 2014 while the same was done for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in 2018, following the bifurcation.
These limits range from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 28 lakh for assembly elections and from Rs 54 lakh to Rs 70 lakh for Lok Sabha elections.
It has often been argued that these limits are unrealistic as the actual expenditure incurred by the candidate is much higher.
However, due to the EC’s stipulated cap it is not reflected in the expenditure statements submitted to it and is instead disguised in various ways or driven through illegal mechanisms.
“In the last six years, the limit was not increased despite increase in electorate from 834 million to 910 million in 2019 and 921 million as on date. Further, Cost Inflation Index during this period has increased from 220 to 280 in 2019 to 301 now”, the ECI said in a press statement.
The two member committee which is to submit its report in four months’ time has been tasked with assessing the change in number of electors across states/UTs and its bearing on expenditure and the change in Cost Inflation Index and its bearing on expenditure pattern of candidates in recent elections.
In view of the pandemic, the ECI has as a temporary measure- already announced a 10 per cent increase for poll going states- from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 22 lakh and from Rs 28 lakh to Rs 30.8 lakh per candidate- as in the case of Bihar assembly elections.
The temporary revision for parliamentary moves up from Rs 70 lakh to Rs 77 lakh and from Rs 54 lakh to Rs 59 lakh in smaller states.
The EC’s new review exercise is aimed at a longer term expenditure limit rationalisation.