With growing instances of election offences, particularly bribery, undue influence, impersonation, false statement in connection with election and failure to keep election account by the contesting candidates and political parties, a PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking direction to the Centre to make these electoral offences cognizable with a minimum jail term of two years.
The PIL filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay reiterates the February 15, 1992 proposal of the Election Commission of India wherein it had told the government to make election offences should be made cognizable with minimum two years of imprisonment.
Upadhyay said these election offences have caused injury to the public and affected free and fair elections while submitting that “2000 onwards, not only the Parliament and State Assembly General Election, even in the by-election; bribery is used to support particular political parties and candidates, which is against the basic dictum of democracy and free and fair election in spirit of Articles 14, 19 and 324 of the Constitution of India”.
“Bribery, undue influence, and impersonation at elections are electoral offences under Sections 171B, 171C and 171D, respectively, of the IPC. These offences are non-cognizable with punishment provision of one year’s imprisonment, or fine, or both. Under Section 171G of the IPC, publishing false statement in connection with election with intent to affect the result of an election, is punishable with fine only. Section 171H provides that incurring or authorizing expenditure for promoting election prospects of a candidate is an offence. However, punishment for offence under this Section is a meager fine of Rs.500. Similarly, Section 171-I provides that failure to keep election account shall be punished with fine, which may be Rs. 500 only.
“These punishments were provided far back in 1920. Considering the gravity of election offences under the aforesaid sections in context of free and fair elections, the Election Commission in 1992 proposed that punishments for above-stated election offences should be enhanced to 2 years and made cognizable. Since 1992, the ECI has reiterated its proposals many times but the successive governments did nothing to implement the suggestions,” said the PIL.
Upadhyay said the ECI once again in 2012 recommended to the Home Ministry to amend the existing law to make bribery during elections a cognizable offence and to enhance the punishment to two years.
“The Home Ministry conveyed to the Election Commission that it has initiated the process to amend the Sections 171B and 171E of the Indian Penal Code for the same. However, Government has done nothing till date,” said Upadhyay.