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Stakeholders are giving final touches to a proposal to make bribing of voters during elections a cognisable offence, the Lok Sabh was informed on Wednesday. "The draft formulation drawn up in this regard has been circulated to all stakeholders for their final vetting," Minister of State for Law P P Chaudhary said in a written reply. The proposal of the Election Commission to make electoral bribery a cognizable offence under section 171B of the Indian Penal Code has been under consideration of the government since 2011. A cognisable offence is one for which police can carry out an arrest without a warrant and initiate investigations. Majority of the states have supported a proposal to make bribery during elections a 'cognisable' offence which the Election Commission feels would check use of money power in polls. At present, bribing of voters is a non-cognisable offence under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and is punishable by imprisonment for a term of up to one year, or with fine, or both, under sections 171B and 171E of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Since amendments to the IPC and the CrPC are the domain of the Union Home Ministry, the Commission had a few years ago approached it to amend CrPC to make bribing of voters a cognisable offence. Based on the proposal of the poll watchdog, the Home Ministry had drawn up the CrPC (Amendment) Bill, 2012. Since amendments in CrPC require the support of 50 per cent of the states, their views were sought. Now, most of the states have supported the proposal. Till January, except Assam, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, all other states had supported the proposal. Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi had recently written to Home Minister Rajnath Singh pushing for an early decision on the draft bill. The poll panel feels that if the offence of bribery in elections is made cognisable, it will act as a deterrent against attempts to lure voters through cash incentives.
It will also help poll machinery take prompt action against those involved in bribery. "Misuse of money power plays vitiating role in the conduct of free and fair elections, and the most blatant form of such misuse is in bribery of electors," Zaidi told Singh. Earlier, the Commission had asked teh Law Ministry to amend Representation of the People Act to give it powers to countermand elections if proof is found that money power was used to lure voters. It, at present, has powers to countermand polls following use of muscle power. The Commission uses its constitutional powers under Article 324 to countermand polls following use of money power. The Law Ministry has rejected the proposal. But Zaidi gave the proposal a second push recently by writing again to the Law Ministry to reconsider the demand.