Poll body can regulate exit polls: Supreme Court (Lead)

January 19th, 2009 - 7:38 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 19 (IANS) The Supreme Court Monday clarified that it never stopped the Election Commission from regulating exit polls and opinion surveys during elections, and said the panel is free to implement its guideline for the purpose.”The Election Commission is free to frame its guidelines to regulate publication of exit polls,” said a bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam.

The court issued the brief order in response to a plea by Additional Solicitor General Amrendra Saran and the poll panel’s counsel Meenakshi Arora to negate the effect of an apex court observation following which the Election Commission had scrapped its guidelines to ban exit polls.

Counsel made the plea during hearing of a public interest lawsuit by advocate D. Thakur, who sought ban on publishing, broadcasting or telecasting exit polls.

The lawsuit, pending since 2004, sought ban on exit poll publication on the ground that they impair free and fair conduct of elections by swaying the voting patterns owing to their publication during the elections, increasingly being held now in a staggered schedule spread over several weeks.

Explaining the need of the apex court clarification, counsel Saran and Arora explained to the bench that earlier in its response to the lawsuit, the poll panel had told the bench that it had only framed a guideline to regulate publication or telecast of exit polls during elections.

At this the apex court bench had made some critical observation against the poll panel’s power to ban publication of exit poll as the issue involved citizens’ fundamental rights to speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a) of the constitution.

The Election Commission had dropped its guidelines on opinion polls and left it for the government and parliament to bring in a suitable law to ban it.

The counsel for the poll panel sought clarification on apex court’s observation against the panel’s power to regulate publication of the exit poll saying that it was erroneous to assume that regulation of opinion and exit polls would amount to interference with the right to information guaranteed by the constitution.

She said banning publication of exit polls for a limited period after announcement of poll schedule and till the day of voting for the last phase of the poll will “only be a reasonable restriction in the larger interest of the democracy”.

The clarification by the apex court came at a time when the government was in the middle of having a law to ban exit polls.

The Rajya Sabha has already passed an amendment to the existing electoral laws to ban the publication of the exit polls, but the bill is yet to be ratified by the Lok Sabha, which is unlikely to do it in its present term before the next general election.

But with the apex court issuing the clarification, the decks have been cleared for the poll panel to ban publication of exit or opinion polls during the next general elections due in April-May 2009.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Politics |