KOLKATA: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call an all-party meeting on public funding of elections, expressing concern over reports of high expenses in this year's Lok Sabha polls.
In a letter to the prime minister, she said, "The issue is broadly of electoral reforms and specifically to prevent corruption and criminality in our democratic polity. The time has come for government funding of elections which is the norm today in 65 countries in the world."
Banerjee's Trinamool Congress had flagged the issue in its manifesto of 2014 and 2019 elections.
"I urge you to call an all-party meeting with the single agenda of public funding of elections in India, with an objective of rooting out corruption. For a free, fair transparent election in India, we urgently need electoral reforms which include government funding of elections," Banerjee wrote in her three-page letter.
She also expressed concern over reports citing high expenses during this year's Lok Sabha elections.
The Centre for Media Studies, a New Delhi based think-tank, claimed in a report last month that about Rs 60,000 crore were spent in the 2019 elections, and the formal expenditure component, i.e. the amount spent by the Election Commission is nearly 15-20 per cent of that.
"May I point out that the combined expenditure in the USA for presidential and Congressional Elections in 2016 was $6.5 billion. In other words, in a developing country, like ours, the elections in 2019 became the world's most expensive election. Going by the current spending figures, it is apprehended that in the next 2024 general elections the poll expenditure could cross Rs one lakh crore," the letter read.
Political parties spent lavishly on publicity and logistics and are said to have even distributed cash for votes, she said adding that the EC has imposed limits only on the expenditure incurred by candidates on their election campaign and not on political parties.
Referring to a report of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, an intergovernmental organisation, Banerjee said 65 countries have Direct Public Funding and 79 have Indirect Public Funding.
The countries where political parties receive Direct Public Funding include major developed countries like Germany, France, the UK, Japan, Italy and Canada and developing nations such as Argentina, Brazil, Thailand and Namibia, she said.
A total of 71 countries such as Belgium, Brazil and Canada are entitled to free media access for political parties, while in India, free broadcasting and television time is allowed only in state-owned All India Radio and Doordarshan, she said in the letter to Modi.