In its bid to limit election spending, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has imposed strict limits on the expenditure incurred by candidates (not political parties) on their election campaign.
With experts anticipating this year's general elections to be the most expensive ever, the Commission has tightened its noose around the candidate spends by announcing a series of new measures falling in two main categories- the first one comprises measures to increase transparency in campaigning such as attestation of identities and locations of all political advertisers, declaration of candidates' social media accounts and outlay etc.
The second category encompasses rules regarding checking misinformation and communication inciting violence or hate by candidates which includes pre-validation of political ads by ECI's Media Certification and Monitoring Committee and the creation of dedicated grievance redressal channels to identify and put down controversial content expeditiously.
According to a Us-based election expert, the upcoming general elections will be the costliest affair in the history of India, possibly one of the most expensive ever held in any democratic country.
"The combined US presidential and congressional elections in 2016 cost $6.5 billion. If the 2014 Lok Sabha elections cost an estimated $5 billion, there is little doubt the 2019 election will easily surpass that - making India's elections the world's most expensive," Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank told PTI.
Spending ceiling for candidates
According to ECI dictat, a candidate can spend between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 70 lakh, depending on the state he/she is contesting the Lok Sabha election from. For all states, except Arunachal Pradesh, Goa and Sikkim, a candidate can spend a maximum of Rs 70 lakh on canvassing. The cap for Arunachal Pradesh, Goa and Sikkim is Rs 54 lakh. And, it is Rs 70 lakh for Delhi and Rs 54 lakh for other Union territories.
For the assembly elections, the ceiling is between Rs 20 lakh and Rs 28 lakh.
The expense above includes the money spent by a political party or a supporter with respect to the contender's campaign; however, they do not include the costs incurred by the party (or the leader of the party) to promote its schemes or plans.
The candidates have to maintain a separate account of these election expenses and file them with ECI as mandated under the law. As per Section 10A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, a person can be disqualified failing to file an account of election expenses. Also, wrong information regarding the expenditure that is beyond the defined cap can lead to disqualification for up to three years.
The registered political parties are required to submit the details of their election outlay to the ECI within 90 days of the completion of the general elections and all candidates have to submit their expenditure statement to the poll watchdog within 30 days of completion of the Lok Sabha elections.
Who bears the expenditure?
The entire cost of conducting general elections is borne by the central government, whereas respective state governments bear the expenses in case of independent state assembly polls.
The cost is divided equally between the central and respective state governments if both Lok Sabha and state assembly elections are conducted together.
Past elections' cost
The total (provisional) expenditure incurred for the last Lok Sabha elections held in 2014 was Rs 3,870 crore, a staggering three times jump from Rs 1,114 crore spent in the general elections of 2009, according to provisional data compiled by the ECI.
The Lok Sabha elections 2019 are expected to be the biggest elections with over 9 crore people going to vote this time.