07, Mar 2019
Prelims level : Mains level : GS-2 “Government policy and intervention for the development of various sector and issues arising out of their design and implementation.” Prelims: “Polity-elections and electoral reforms.”
- Law Ministry made it mandatory for election candidates to reveal their income-tax returns of the last five years, as well as the details of their offshore assets. This was done by amending Form 26, after the Election Commission of India wrote to the Ministry.
What is Form 26?
- A candidate in an election is required to file an affidavit called Form 26 that furnishes information on her assets, liabilities, educational qualifications, criminal antecedents (convictions and all pending cases) and public dues, if any.
- The affidavit has to be filed along with the nomination papers and should be sworn before an Oath Commissioner or Magistrate of the First Class or before a Notary Public.
What has changed?
- Earlier, a candidate had to only declare the last I-T return (for self, spouse and dependents). Details of foreign assets were not sought.
- Offshore assets, as per the notification, means “details of all deposits or investments in foreign banks and any other body or institution abroad and details of all assets and liabilities in foreign countries”.
- It is now mandatory for candidates to reveal their own income-tax returns of the last five years rather than only one, and the details of offshore assets, as well as the same details for their spouse, members of the Hindu Undivided Family (if the candidate is a karta or coparcener), and dependents.
- The objective behind introducing Form 26 was that it would help voters make an informed decision. The affidavit would make them aware of the criminal activities of a candidate, which could help prevent people with questionable backgrounds from being elected to an Assembly or Parliament. With the recent amendment, voters will know the extent to which a serving MP’s income grew during his five years in power.
What happens if a candidate lies in an affidavit?
- A candidate is expected to file a complete affidavit. Leaving a few columns blank can render the affidavit “nugatory”. It is the responsibility of the Returning Officer (RO) to check whether Form 26 has been completed; the nomination paper can be rejected if the candidate fails to fill it in full.
- If it is alleged that a candidate has suppressed information or lied in her affidavit, the complainant can seek an inquiry through an election petition. If the court finds the affidavit false, the candidate’s election can be declared void. The current penalty for lying in an affidavit is imprisonment up to six months, or fine, or both. In May 2018, the EC had asked the government to make the filing of a false affidavit a “corrupt practice” under the election law, which would make the candidate liable for disqualification for up to six years. But nothing has been done by the government on this front.