The recent decision by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on opinion and exit polls is a welcome step.
According to the new guidelines, the Commission has barred dissemination of opinion and exit polls by the print and electronic media 48 hours prior to the date of the Lok Sabha or Assembly elections in case of a single-phase election and a blanket ban on these surveys till the end of polling in the event of multi-phase elections.
Obviously free and fair elections are a pre-condition for a democracy. The exit polls being displayed while the whole election process has not been completed, has the potential to introduce the bias.
It may be noted that in January 1998, the Election Commission had banned the airing of exit polls during elections till the final phase of voting. However, this order was challenged in the Supreme Court and was quashed.
The ECI recently again asked the Supreme Court to decide whether there should be a reasonable restriction on the opinion polls during certain specified periods during the election process. The apex court gave a verdict leaving the issue to its discretion to lay down guidelines till the Union Government frames regulations. Hence ECI jumped on this opportunity to bring in a healthy practice.