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The scope of the term "conduct of election" in Article 324 of the Constitution of India is broad enough to give the Election Commission authority to issue directions for political parties to submit details of all election-related expenditures.
Common Cause, an organization that involves itself in various matters of public interest, filed a public interest petition pursuant to Article 32 of the Constitution of India in an effort to bring transparency to the collection of money used by candidates in the process of election (pg. 1). Common Cause argued that Article 324 of Constitution of India coupled with the cumulative effect of three statutory provisions – Section 293A of the Companies Act 1956, Section 13A of the Income-tax Act 1961, and Section 77 of the Representation of People Act 1950 – had the purpose of bringing transparency to the process of election-funding. Without such transparency, those already in power were capable of collecting inordinate amounts of “black money,” allowing them to retain power through re-election and creating a vicious cycle that pollutes democracy (pg. 1-2). The political parties subject to the petition admitted that no tax filings or other election-related disclosures had been made but argued that they did not have any income liable to be taxed (pg. 4-5).
The Court ruled that (1) the political parties that had not been filing tax returns violated the provisions of the Income Tax Act and (2) the burden lies with the candidate to prove that expenditures were incurred by the party and not the candidate him or herself. The Court then addressed the constitutional issue of the role of the Election Commission in bringing transparency to the process of election (pg. 10-13). With Article 324 of the Constitution providing that the Election Commission has control over the conduct of election, the Court was compelled to define the scope of the term “conduct of election.” Based on prior case law, the Court concluded that the Election Commission’s constitutional authority includes issuing directions for political parties to submit for its scrutiny the details of all expenditures incurred or authorized by the parties in connection with the election of their respective candidates (pg. 15). Thus, the Court ruled that the Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Department of Revenue, and Government of India shall (i) appoint a body to inquire into why requirements under the Income Tax Act for the disclosure and filing of income tax by political parties were not being enforced by the tax authorities, and (ii) investigate political parties that had failed to disclose and file Income Tax and initiate action, including any penal action against the defaulting political parties, in accordance with the Income Tax Act (pg. 16).
Judgment of the Court.
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