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Report No. 255

(iv) Important developments in 2004

8.4.1. The vacuum with regard to guidelines on the publication and dissemination of results of opinion polls persisted till 2004. To arrive at a decision by consensus prior to the general elections to the House of the People that year, the EC convened a meeting of all political parties on 6th April 2004, to deliberate on the issue of opinion polls and exit polls. The view of the majority of the political parties was that conducting opinion polls and publishing the results thereof should not be allowed from the date of issue of statutory notification calling the election till the completion of the poll.

The suggestion that emerged out of the all-party meet was that in a multi-phased election where poll is taken on different dates, such prohibition in conducting and publishing the results of opinion polls should be for the entire period starting from the date of notification of the first phase of election and until the completion of the poll in the last phase.333

A similar view was also voiced for exit polls, and all parties were of the view that in a multi-phased election, results of exit polls should not be allowed to be published until the completion of the poll in the last phase. The EC thereafter recommended to the Ministry of Law and Justice that there should be a specific provision in the Representation of the People Act, 1951 ('RP Act, 1951'), prohibiting publication and dissemination of the results of exit polls and opinion polls during the period mentioned above.

333. ECI 2004 Reforms, supra note 203

8.4.2. Upon receiving the aforesaid recommendation from the EC, the Ministry of Law and Justice sought the opinion of the then Attorney General of India, Mr. Soli Sorabjee in this regard. Mr. Sorabjee was of the view that prohibiting the publication of opinion polls and exit polls would constitute a breach of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Mr. Sorabjee opined that such prohibition would specifically violate the public's right to know, which has been held by the Supreme Court to be part of the freedom of speech, Indian Express v. Union of India, (1981) Supp SCC 87 . He suggested that certain guidelines could be laid down to provide that while disseminating results of poll surveys, the agency concerned should provide the public with sufficient information, such as the:

(a) Name of the political party or organisation which commissioned the survey;

(b) Identity of the organisation conducting the survey and the methodology employed;

(c) Sample chosen and the margin of error.

8.4.3. Most importantly, Mr. Sorabjee pointed out that the EC, in exercise of its plenary powers under Article 324 of the Constitution, can issue directions requiring the media to comply with the guidelines. One of the significant takeaways from Mr. Sorabjee's opinion was that it did not contemplate an outright ban on the publication and dissemination of opinion polls, but regulation by means of guidelines issued by the EC in this regard.

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