What is the Model Code of Conduct, and what are the penalties for violation?

GS Paper II

News Excerpt:

The Election Commission of India (EC) has announced the dates for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and asked all political parties to strictly adhere to the Mode Code of Conduct (MCC), which lays down a list of dos and don’ts for leaders and parties ahead of elections.

What is the Model Code of Conduct?

  • The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India (EC).
    • MCC aims to establish standards of conduct for political parties and candidates during election campaigns and polling.
    • It serves to maintain the integrity of the electoral process and promote free and fair elections.
    • Compliance with the MCC is mandatory for all parties and candidates participating in elections in India.
  • The MCC also explains the procedure for parties to file complaints with EC observers in case of disputes.
  • MCC also dictates the behavior of Ministers belonging to parties in power when the MCC is active.

MCC’s origin

  • Kerala was the first state to adopt a code of conduct for elections.
    • In 1960, ahead of the Assembly elections in the state, the administration prepared a draft code that covered important aspects of electioneering such as processions, political rallies, and speeches.
  • The experiment was successful, and the EC decided to emulate Kerala’s example and circulate the draft among all recognised parties and state governments for the Lok Sabha elections of 1962.
  • However, it was only in 1974, just before the mid-term general elections, that the EC released a formal MCC. 
  • The MCC has subsequently evolved as an integral part of conducting fair and free elections.

Is the MCC a law?

  • The MCC is not a statutory document.
    • The MCC evolved as part of the ECI’s drive to ensure free and fair elections and was the result of a consensus among major political parties. 
    • This means anybody breaching the MCC can’t be prosecuted under any clause of the Code. Everything is voluntary.
    • The EC uses moral sanction or censure for its enforcement.

When does MCC come into force and end? Who is bound by it?

  • The MCC comes into force immediately when the election schedule is announced by the Election Commission and remains in operation till the election process is complete, i.e. results are announced. 
  • The MCC is applicable to all elections to the Lok Sabha, State Assemblies
    • It is also applicable for State Legislative Council elections from Local Bodies, and Graduates’ and Teachers’ Constituencies. 
  • It is enforced throughout India in case of General elections, and the State up for polls in case of Legislative Assembly elections.
  • All organisations, committees, corporations, commissions (for e.g. Transport authorities, Jal boards) funded wholly or partially by the Centre or State are bound by the MCC. 
  • While listed political parties and candidates are bound to follow the MCC, even non-political organisations which hold campaigns favouring a political party or candidate are bound to follow specific guidelines mentioned by the EC.

Enforcement of MCC:

  • Before conducting General or State Assembly elections, the Election Commission instructs the government to transfer all officers, including police, from their home district.
    • Officers who have served or are completing three out of four years in their home district are to be relocated to prevent any potential interference.
    • This measure aims to ensure impartiality and prevent undue influence during the electoral process.
  • The MCC is then implemented by the newly appointed officials and nodal EC officers monitor compliance. 
  • No election campaigning is allowed within the constituency 48 hours before the close of polls.

Guidelines for parties and candidates:

  • Political parties and candidates are advised to avoid discussing the personal lives of leaders and workers from opposing parties.
    • Criticisms should be confined to the policies, programs, past records, and accomplishments of the opposition.
    • Social media content should refrain from insulting opponents.
  • The emphasis is on constructive debate focused on substantive issues rather than personal attacks.
  • They must also not indulge in activities aggravating existing differences or create mutual hatred between different castes, religious and linguistic communities. 
    • Appeals to caste or communal feelings for securing votes are also prohibited.
  • Restrictive or prohibitory orders in force at any public place where meetings are held must be adhered to. 
    • Permission for usage of public spaces and loudspeakers must be taken from local police. 
    • In case of public procession, details of time and place of start and end point and the route to be followed must be informed and cleared by the police.
  • All political workers engaged in electioneering must display badges or identity cards and must leave the constituency after the campaign period is over if they are not a voter or candidate or candidate’s election agent from that constituency.
    • Disrupting public meetings of other parties or candidates are also prohibited. 
    • Parties cannot hold processions along places where other parties are holding meetings or remove/ deface rival parties’ posters.
  • No political party can make any payment over ₹10,000 in cash, in a day, to any person/company/entity.
  • Parties must also not resort to bribing/intimidating/impersonating voters. 
    • They must also not transport voters to and from polling stations or serve/distribute liquor.
  • Canvassing within 100 metres of polling booths is not allowed
  • Demonstrations before the house of any individual is also not allowed.
  • Displaying posters, flags, symbols, or any propaganda material is prohibited at polling places.
  • The use of loudspeakers is restricted between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., except with written permission from local authorities.
    • Public meetings are typically not permitted to extend beyond 10 p.m. unless otherwise authorized.

Guidelines for governments:

  • Union Ministries must obtain prior approval from the Election Commission for policy announcements, fiscal measures, taxation issues, and financial reliefs during the MCC period.
    • Communication with the Election Commission should be channeled through the Cabinet Secretariat, rather than directly contacting the EC.
  • Similarly, State governments are subject to similar guidelines, requiring proposals to be referred to a screening committee.
    • The screening committee will then forward the proposals to the Chief Electoral Officers, who will only escalate them to the EC if the applicable instructions are unclear.
  • Ministers and authorities shall not announce financial grants, lay foundation stones of projects or schemes when MCC is in force. 
    • They must also not make promises of construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities etc. to influence voters in favour of the party in power. 
    • They cannot sanction grants/payments out of discretionary funds – funds sanctioned in the budget in a generic manner prior to MCC’s enforcement.
    • Official visits cannot be combined with electioneering work and no official machinery, vehicles, guest houses or personnel can be used for campaigning.
  • State/ Union governments must keep public places like maidans and helipads available impartially for all parties and candidates to ensure a level-playing field.
  • During an election year, the Union government cannot present a complete Budget due to the potential change in ruling government post-election.
    • Under the MCC, the government is not allowed to announce any major scheme which could influence voters or present an Economic Survey in the interim budget. 
    • However, it is allowed to revise tax rates.
  • Instead, the government may opt to seek a vote on account which includes presenting its fund requirement for salaries, ongoing projects and other expenditure for the transitional period.
    • Vote on account is passed via the Lok Sabha.
  • Ex-gratia payments, release of PM/CM’s relief funds for medical treatments, emergency relief work, new works to mitigate natural disasters are allowed by the EC. 
    • However, declaration of an area as drought/flood affected or any such calamity affected can be done only by the EC’s approval.
  • Fresh release of funds from Members of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLAD) schemes is prohibited. 
    • No work can be started on which orders were issued prior to MCC enforcement but work did not start on-field.
  • Writing off loans by State governments of any individual, company, firm, etc. during the period when MCC is in force without EC’s approval is not allowed.
  • Ad-hoc appointments of officers are prohibited during MCC. 
    • In certain cases, even regular appointments on the basis of due selection by statutory and constitutional bodies like Union or State Public Service Commissions, Staff Selection Commission may be deferred till after the completion of elections. 
    • Recruitment via non-statutory bodies will require EC’s clearance.
  • Issue of advertisements, hoardings at the cost of public exchequer in electronic or print media highlighting the achievements of the government is not allowed when MCC is in force. 
    • Such advertisements cannot be published in non-polling states too. 
    • Photographs of Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, Ministers and other political functionaries highlighting government work should not be displayed when MCC is in force.

Poll manifestos:

  • In 2019, an amendment concerning election manifestos was introduced in MCC, directing parties to refrain from making promises “repugnant to the ideals of the Constitution.”
    • They must reflect the rationale for welfare scheme promises and indicate ways to meet the financial requirements for it. 
    • The manifesto documents must not be released during the prohibitory period (when MCC kicks in).

How are violations dealt with?

  • Any complaint regarding elections should be brought to EC observers, Returning Officer, local magistrate, Chief Electoral Officer or the Election Commission itself. 
  • In response, any directions issued by the EC, Returning officer, District Election Officer shall be strictly complied with.

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