The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Exit poll enters govt court
- Ordinance dilemma as EC takes safe option

New Delhi, April 7: The Election Commission has asked the government to explore the possibility of banning opinion and exit polls, adding momentum to a concerted campaign launched by all political parties 24 hours ago.

Official sources said the commission has asked whether the government could consider some kind of “legislative change” in accordance with the views expressed at yesterday’s all-party meeting.

Citing unhealthy impact of opinion and exit polls on the electorate, political parties had closed ranks and demanded a ban. The Election Commission had proscribed such polls in 1998 but the Supreme Court had lifted the ban.

Keen to avoid a replay in the court, the government is considering an ordinance. But the sources stressed that no final decision has been taken.

Attorney-general Soli Sorabjee reportedly consulted law ministry officials after the commission’s communiqué reached the government.

The sources said the government’s prime consideration was to ensure that the eventual decision would be in line with Article 19 (a) of the Constitution, which guarantees right to freedom of speech and expression.

“The government is seriously looking at the constitutional compatibility of any option with 19 (a),” an official said. If, for instance, an ordinance is seen to be going against the clause, the matter is likely to be referred to the cabinet, the sources added.

They feel that though the political establishment had unanimously favoured a ban, a move from the government may be perceived as “direct intervention” on the right to information and could end up being counter-productive if it was challenged in a court of law.

The issue also involves the question of “propriety” in effecting a “legislative change” in the middle of elections on a subject directly relating to the exercise of franchise.

BJP sources are of the view that the best way out would have been for the commission to issue a fiat or for political parties to evolve a consensus on opinion polls and adhere to its spirit.

The ruling establishment also fears an uproar in the media and among the pollsters. Eminent psephologists have already opposed the ban, saying there is little evidence to prove that opinion polls had an impact on voting behaviour and pointing out that the issue involved the right to information.

The commission has asked the government to take a decision because the panel is not keen on getting into another legal wrangle.

While overturning the earlier ban, the Supreme Court had said the ban infringes on the right to freedom of expression and the right to information.

The commission is already under pressure from the Supreme Court which has asked the panel to formulate guidelines for monitoring all direct and indirect political advertisements on television channels.

Before the directive came, the commission wanted the information and broadcasting ministry to take the responsibility of monitoring the advertisements.

The ministry, however, maintained that it was the duty of the commission to monitor the advertisements during the time of elections.

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