Need to fine-tune, update law: CEC

New Delhi: The Mode Code of Conduct, which came under attack recently from ministers in trouble and from government which hurriedly dropped a controversial move to give it a statutory backing, needs to be further strengthened, Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi said today.

The Election Commission has sufficient authority under the law for the conduct of free and fair elections and does not require any more powers, he said on the conclusion of the Assembly elections in five states, including Uttar Pradesh, in which a number of ministers were hauled up for violation of the model code of conduct.

"We do not require any more powers. The Model Code of Conduct is sufficient. But we need to fine-tune and update certain provisions of the Representation of People`s Act to make penalties for violation of MCC more stringent," Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi told PTI here today.

Asked whether the commission needed more powers, he said, "we have demonstrated that our powers are good enough and we have used them judiciously".

He said "the current fines for violations of MCC under the Act are ridiculous? For instance, there is a fine of only Rs 500 prescribed under the Act for a violation, which needs to be updated to bring it in line with the current realities."

Disfavouring statutory backing for the Model Code of Conduct, the CEC said it is a unique document which the political parties have themselves evolved for discipline during elections. "It is working very effectively. It only needs some fine tuning," he said.

Union Ministers, including Salman Khurshid, Beni Prasad Verma and Sriprakash Jaiswal were given notices by the Election Commission for alleged violation of model conduct of conduct after they made controversial statements.

In between, a proposal was mooted for giving statutory backing to the Model Code of Conduct on the agenda of a group of ministers headed by Pranab Mukherjee but was hurriedly dropped when it came under attack from rival political parties when they accused the government of attempting to take away the powers from Election Commission.

Critics argued that giving statutory backing to the MCC would have taken away the jurisdiction of the Election Commission over poll violations and put them in the hands of the courts, which would result in tremendous delays.

That would tend to give the violator a long rope instead of under the present system when the Commission could intervene immediately to redress the situation.

Quraishi said that though the Model Code of Conduct had only a moral authority it is sufficient enough for conduct of free and fair polls as seen in the successful conclusion of elections to the assemblies of five states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.

"The world looks at the model code of conduct with wonder…it is such a unique document. No one should undermine the Model Code of Conduct," he said.

Opposing the Government`s move for grant of statutory powers to Model Code of Conduct, Quraishi supported the present system as more effective than many other laws of the land and said it has put a check on poll malpractices. "Giving statutory backing to Model Code is a very vague suggestion….When we do not need any power, then why are you giving it to us forcibly," the CEC said.

Quraishi said the Model Code was like quick action, it works like fire brigade dousing fire. "If such matters go to court, it will take six to seven years… It is very effective now. You have seen in the last three-four years there has been not a single hate speech or any personal attack against each other. It is an effective tool than many laws of the land," Quraishi said.