Electoral malpractices in Mumbai: What happens to those guilty?

For many years now, no criminal charges for electoral malpractices in Mumbai elections have been observed. Why is this the case?

Over the past 15 years, not a single corporator has lost their seat or been disqualified because they indulged in corrupt practices during the elections. 23 corporators have lost their seats in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), mostly due to submission of false caste certification. But, the BMC has failed to lodge criminal proceedings against them, and has restricted itself to just replacing them with the election runners-up. 

This is not to suggest that electoral malpractices do not take place during Mumbai’s civic elections. But according to the nominated corporator on the BEST panel, Sunil Ganacharya, most charges of electoral malpractices fail to get convicted, since it’s difficult to prove such charges in courts.

Read more: Who can contest BMC elections?

Twice elected and nominated four times as corporator, Sunil has closely observed the election processes in Mumbai. “Though there are provisions to disqualify a corporator and even cancelling an election and calling for fresh polls at a future date, this happens rarely. 

As per procedure, in cases of submission of fake caste certifications, the runner- up is declared winner, while in cases where electoral malpractices are found, a fresh election could be called for. So, there is less incentive for pushing forth the cases of corrupt practices,” says Sunil. “Cases of malpractice are difficult to prove in court. It also becomes difficult to get witnesses to stick to their versions in court over a period of time,” he adds.

“These days videos do get accepted as evidence by courts, but only if they are verified and certified as valid, unedited, undoctored, genuine electronic evidence by the local authorities under section 65 (b) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Basically, one has to take the video to the local police authorities to get the necessary certification to be able to use it in courts,” says Advocate Veer Kankaria. 

Anil Galgali, an RTI activist, says that although malpractice is frequent on the ground, few come forward to officially lodge a complaint. “Since all parties and candidates across the board indulge in corrupt practises, few bother to take cognisance and take the complaint forward,” says Anil, who monitors cases of corruption during election.

Additionally, Satish Khot, vice chairman of the Public Concern for Governance Trust, points to a lack of options to lodge anonymous complaints. “Which common citizen would want to incur the wrath of local politicians or get beaten up or be targeted by the political goons?” he asks, since he was roughed up during previous elections. 

To address this, in 2017, the Maharashtra State Election Commission (SEC) started an app called Citizen on Portal (COP) during the 2017 BMC elections that saw almost 340 complaints filed anonymously on the app. The anonymity and ease of complaining led to large-scale reporting of electoral malpractices, which was way higher than the 30-odd complaints received physically by the BMC.

“Incidentally, though anonymity was guaranteed to complainants, a complaint could be registered on the COP app only after one had disclosed their identity. This was done to weed out the frivolous and mischievous complainants and ensure only genuine serious complaints. For the same reason, names of complainants are kept mandatory for lodging complaints in person,” said an official from the State Election Commission.

What is an electoral malpractice? 

Section 28 F of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MMC) Act, 1888 lists out electoral corrupt practices. The list includes offering financial or other inducements, promising individual benefits, Issuing threats or using undue influence to seek votes. It also bars candidates from creating or exploiting divisions between different religious, castes, communities or linguistic groups during the course of campaigning for the purpose of seeking votes. 

Ferrying of voters to the polling booths using vehicles propelled by mechanical power, is also considered a corrupt practice. However, use of public transport, trams or bullock carts on an individual basis is not seen as a corrupt practice. The important point, however, is that even in the case of the former, it would be termed a corrupt practice only if it is proved that the transportation was provided for voters with the candidate’s knowledge and consent.

a group of Congress supporters rally at BMC elections, holding party posters and other paraphernalia
Representative Image | Photo: Flickr, Al Jazeera, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

While the MMC Act lays out only broad guidelines, the Election Commission of India’s model code of conduct for elections spells out specific do’s and don’ts for political parties, candidates and their campaigners towards ensuring a free and fair election process. 

  • Candidates cannot criticise any aspect of another candidate’s, leader’s, or worker’s private life.
  • Candidates cannot campaign or give speeches in religious places of worship like temples, churches or mosques, nor can they stick election propaganda, like posters or banners, at these places. 
  • Distribution of liquor on election day is also barred by the model code. 
  • Political processions should be taken only with the permissions of the local police force after submitting their routes and timings. They can use loudspeakers with proper permissions only between 6 am to 10 pm. 
  • Sticking posters, writing slogans or putting up banners on private property can be done only after taking permission of owners. Political workers cannot deface or remove the campaign material, flags or symbols of other political parties. 
  • Campaigning both in person and in the media has to be halted 48 hours before the election day. 

Most of these restrictions are enforced after the polling dates are announced and generally stay in force till the election process gets over.

What are the consequences of indulging in electoral malpractices ? 

According to Section 28 (G) of the MMC Act:

  • Those who induce voters with money, promise of individual profit, or a ferry to the polling booths, could be penalised with a fine of Rs 200 each.
  • A voter found to have accepted cash or any incentive in return for their vote could be penalised with a charge of Rs 100.

The charges of exploiting religious sentiments for votes though could have serious consequences. A person, convicted on such charges, could face imprisonment of upto three years or fine or both. The candidates’ election could also stand cancelled and a fresh poll ordered, according to Section 33 of the MMC Act, 1888. 

Instances of violence or rioting or destroying of ballot papers on election day could also lead to cancellation and postponement of elections. 

Incidentally, while the Small Causes Court is the appellate authority that hears the petitions regarding electoral malpractices in BMC elections, violations of the model code of conduct fail to attract strong penal action. Show cause notices are issued and candidates could be barred from campaigning or recommended with registration of cases

As Sunil Ganacharya observes: “These provisions were effective when getting slapped with criminal charges would be viewed as a loss of reputation or public standing. However, in today’s times when home ministers and police commissioners face criminal charges with straight faces, they hold no value. Rules need to be made more stringent and violation punishable with higher penalties.”

Where can citizens register complaints against election malpractices?

“Complaints can be registered with the returning officer of the particular ward or with the local BMC office or the collector’s office. Generally prior to elections, the contact numbers and addresses, where one can lodge such complaints are publicized and also available on the state election commission website,” says an official from the Maharashtra State Election Commission. 

He also informed that the COP app was available only during the election period. “It could be upgraded and activated yet again during this election, if the government decides to,” the official said. 

Sites like truevoter.in and mahavoter.in continue to be available for information regarding voter registration.

Also read:

Corrigendum: The entire article above has replaced an earlier, unedited version that had been inadvertently published. Our apologies for the confusion

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