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Election expenses bar goes up

New Delhi, Oct. 21: Keeping in mind rising costs, the Union cabinet today raised the ceiling on expenditure by a candidate in a parliamentary poll to Rs 25 lakh and in an Assembly contest to Rs 10 lakh.

Earlier, the limits were Rs 15 lakh for a parliamentary candidate and Rs 6 lakh for an Assembly seat.

The cabinet also initiated steps to introduce safeguards against misuse of the controversial anti-terror law.

“The raising of the ceiling on expenditure for parliamentary constituencies as well as Assembly constituencies will make election expenses more realistic and practical,” parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said.

The last review of the ceilings was made in 1997. Expenses vary from state to state, a fact that has been kept in view while fixing ceilings this time, too. For instance, though the limit for the coming Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh has been set at Rs 10 lakh, the figure for Delhi is Rs 9 lakh and for Mizoram Rs 5 lakh. Elections in all five states are scheduled in just over a month.

Politicians say polls are the most expensive in Andhra Pradesh where a parliamentary contestant has to spend Rs 1 crore on an average. In an Assembly seat, the expenditure is Rs 35 to 50 lakh. Among the southern states, expenses are the lowest in Kerala. In the west, money power plays a large role in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Surprisingly, in states commonly perceived as the most corrupt, like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, expenses are much lower than in many southern and western states. For a parliamentary seat in these two states, a candidate spends Rs 25-30 lakh and for an Assembly constituency Rs 5-6 lakh.

Following complaints of misuse of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the cabinet also resolved to make decisions of the review committees set up under the law binding on state governments.

The ordinance giving statutory powers to the review committees will be formalised through a bill in the winter session. A three-member central review committee is already in place to deal with complaints from those charged under the act. Such committees can be formed by states, too.

Under the ordinance, if a plea seeking review is moved both before the central and state review panels and the findings are conflicting, the decision of the central committee will prevail.

The decision comes in the backdrop of complaints from NDA ally and MDMK leader Vaiko booked by the Jayalalithaa government. Another ally of the Vajpayee government, the DMK, has demanded repeal of the law, saying it was being misused her.

A third decision will initiate a law to regulate the use of the state emblem of India and make violation a punishable offence. Use of the emblem by the public, including retired or former government officials, public servants, unless specifically authorised by the government, will be banned. The law will prohibit use of the emblem for professional and commercial purposes. Anyone flouting the provisions will face imprisonment up to two years, or a fine up to Rs 5,000, or both.

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