Election reforms in India

                                                           Introduction

India has its democratic strengths: a constitution for democracy, frequent elections, formal checks and balances, a fairly free media and a vibrant civil society. Yet there is little doubt that core aspects of Indian politics require systemic changes too, and India will continue to be a dysfunctional democracy until that happens. Election is the major sector which has gone through various reforms and still needs more reforms.

Election reforms refer to introducing best practices to ensure better democracy, clean politics, fair elections, ideal legislative houses members, true representation, etc.

Constitution of India has various Articles which deals with electoral reforms: Article 324-329.

Article 324 compiles the Superintendence, direction, and control of elections to be vested in an Election Commission.

Article 325 quotes that no person to be ineligible for inclusion in or to claim to be included in a special, electoral roll on grounds of religion, race, caste or sex.

 Article 326 deals with the Elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assemblies of States to be on the basis of adult suffrage.

 Article 327 provides power to the Parliament to make provision with respect to elections to Legislatures.

Article 328 provides power to Legislature of a State to make provision with respect to elections to such Legislature.

 Article 329 provides to create a bar on the court to make any interference by courts relating to electoral matters.[1]

These electoral reforms are provisioned to prohibit criminalisation of politics, to avoid the abuse of government resources, to discourage money and muscle power from contributing to electoral processes, to discourage non-serious candidates from contesting in elections, to make electoral processes impartial, free of bias to any political party, to increase citizens’ trust in electoral processes, to use technology to improve electoral processes to be in line with modern day practices.[2]

                                    Committees on electoral reforms

  • Jaya Prakash Narayan Committee: Jaya Prakash Narayan led an EPW-consisting committee in 1974. Decosta, A.G. Noorani, R. D. Desai, PH. Mavlankar, M. R. Masani and V. M. Tarkunde make recommendations on electoral processes or on electoral reforms.

The committee recommended following improvements in the electoral systems:

  • Changing the appointment procedure for Chief Electoral Commissioner;
  • To elect three representatives in the Board of Elections;
  • Reduce the voting age from 21 to 18; and
  • TV and radio should be put under an autonomous company.[3]
  • Dinesh Goswami Committee: In 1990 a Committee headed by Dinesh Goswami made the following recommendations:
  • The ordering of a re-poll or counterclaim should not only be on the returning officer’s report, but also otherwise, and should also give the Election Commission the necessary powers to hire investigating agencies, prosecuting agencies, and the setting up of special courts.
  • An amendment to the anti-defection legislation is required to limit disqualification only to such situations where an elected member willingly relinquishes his membership of the political party, or where he votes or abstained from voting against party whips, orders, etc. only in respect of a motion of confidence vote. The question of members being disqualified should not be decided by speaker or the chairperson of that house.
  • Changes in voting patterns and shifts to a proportional representation of the list system should be made instead of the present voting system (but this issue should be discussed further among exports).
  • Fresh delimitation should be based on the 1981 census, and provision should be made for rotation of reserved seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  • No candidates from more than two constituencies should be permitted to contest an election. The age of assembly seat candidates should be reduced to 21, and that of the Council to 25.
  • The security deposit for Lok Sabha should be increased to Rs. 5000 to deter non-serious candidates, and it should be increased to Rs. 2500 for Assembly. When the candidate fails to receive one fourth of the total votes, the amount will be forfeited. As well, the member of nomination proposals should be increased.
  • A model code of conduct should be framed. These codes of conduct will include concerns relating to the use of official equipment, transportation, media, funds, etc.
  • The movement of officials and personnel in conjunction with the elections will be prohibited. The Commission and the central government, in consultation with the Election Commission, should continue the periodic review of election expenses. The deadline for holding by-elections should be six months.
  • Proxy voting should be allowed for army and para-military staff, diplomats and others put outside India.
  • Extensive reform of the election expense accounting is expected.
  • Expenditure oversight should be conducted by the Election Commission, and a speedy trial of election disputes should be ensured through the assistance of ad hoc judges.
  • The penalty of plying mechanically propelled cars, carrying lethal weapons and firearms or selling liquor on polling day should be given.
  • The use of electronic voting machines would end the bribery and tempering process.[4]
  • Jeevan Reddy Committee: Far-reaching electoral changes were introduced by Justice Jeevan Reddy. The Highlights are below:
  • During the term of the Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly the Commission advocated a total ban on splits and fusions of political parties.
  • If a member is elected on a ticket from a given recognized party, he will remain in that party by resignation or otherwise until the dissolution of the House or until the end of his membership.
  • The Commission has recommended a steep ten-fold hike in deposits of independent and unrecognized party candidates to discourage non-serious persons from contesting elections.
  • In order to curb the criminalization of politics, the Commission recommended that an individual should be disqualified from contesting elections to the Lok Sabha or an Assembly if a court ordered charges for offenses specified in the 1951 People’s Representation Act.[5]
  • Tarkunde Committee: In August 1974 Jaya Prakash Narayan formed a V.M. committee on behalf of the Citizen’s for Democracy. Tarkunde, M.R. Masani, A.G. Noorani, P.G. Mavalankar, R.D. Desai and E. Decosta, PW. The committee gave following suggestions:
  • The election commission should be composed of three members
  • The minimum voting age will be 18 years.
  •  The TV and Radio should be under independent legislative corporation power.
  • The committee recommended that the council of electors be organized in as many districts as possible that can participate in free and fair elections[6].

                                      Issues faced in Election process

Even though there had been many reforms from the committees still there are loopholes in the election process in India. Indian political culture has always been vitiated by unprecedented waves of populism, jingoism, sectarianism and political confrontation.

The power of money and freebies:

  • Spending: There are three sources of election spending viz. Legitimate cost of election campaigning, cost of running a party and cost of TV air time. However, the valid expenditure reported is a pure percentage of the candidate’s actual spending and the associated political parties. According to the National Commission for Reviewing the Functioning of the Constitution (NCRWC) report, high election costs establish a high degree of pressure on the public arena for corruption.
  • Vote-buying: The increase in illegitimate vote-buying spending has become a matter of great concern, as it only makes the rich more eligible to become an MP (Member of Parliament) or MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) over a well-paid public-spirited citizen.
  • Freebies: Freebie is anything offered or given free of charge, ranging from rice to laptops & bicycles at the cheapest rates. These promises may be targeted at specific electorate groups such as families of the BPL, weaker sections of society, women, disabled people etc. While people have rejected it several times, but by providing such entitlements political parties tend to compete with one another.

Paid news:

  • Paid news is any news or commentary that appears in any form (Print and Electronic) at a cash or kind price. An issue such as Paid News disrupts the level playing field and circumvents the limits of election spending. This poses an obstacle for India’s Election Commission (ECI) to conduct the smooth run-off elections honestly, reasonably and transparently.

Issuance of secret bonds:

  • Electoral bonds are the bearer bonds released in 2017 to cleanse the country’s democratic finance scheme. The anonymous aspect, however, in which neither the donor nor the political party is required to disclose who the donation comes from violates the basic principle of accountability in political finance. Furthermore, because the issuing body is the State Bank of India, i.e. a Government-run agency, there is a fear of retaliation among donors as the government may search for the names of the anonymous donors at any point of time.

Criminalisation of Politics:

  • It refers to a situation in which the anti-social elements enter the electoral process by contesting elections, being elected to the legislature, and thus holding public offices. This is due to the existing strong nexus in the present system between the criminals and some politicians abusing the loopholes.

Caste based politics:

  • Over the last three decades, caste politics have been characterized by the struggle for power on the caste lines rather than the downtrodden ‘s comprehensive social reform agenda. Under the election law, however, election campaigns along religious or caste lines are prohibited.[7]

                    Measures taken to resolve current political issues

By legislation:

  • Cap on candidate spending: Currently, in accordance with Rule 90 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, a candidate contesting Lok Sabha polls may spend up to 70 lakh and up to 28 lakhs in an assembly election, depending on the state in which he / she contests polls.
  • Recently, in Congress, a Private Member’s bill was introduced that aimed to end candidates’ election expenditure limit. The move was taken on the ground that, by encouraging candidates to under-report their expenses, the ceiling on election expenses ends up being counterproductive.
  • After the Tehelka scam a law was passed by the Parliament in 2003. According to it, donations to political parties will receive donor income tax exemptions of 100 per cent.[8]

 By Election Commission of India: Various schemes has been launched by Election                                                       Commission of India to curb issues:

  • Political Parties Registration Tracking Management System (PPRTMS): To allow applicants to track their application progress. [9]
  • Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation Programme (SVEEP): ECI organizes awareness programs to train the electorate.[10]

By Judiciary:

  • In People’s Union of Civil Liberties vs. Union of India 2013 case: Voters enjoy “Right to Negative Vote” in the electoral process and have instructed the ECI to include “NOTA” in the ballot paper.[11]

                                     Criminalisation in Politics

In the Public interest foundation and ors vs. Union of India judgment SC has ruled that it is the parliament ‘s duty to enact a law to prevent politics from being criminalised.

Five-judges constitution bench also ruled that the candidate’s disqualification cannot be based on a mere framing of charges.

According to the data analyzed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) on the criminal record of MPs and Member of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs).Of the 542 winners examined, 185(34 per cent) winners among the MPs elected to the 16th Lok Sabha have filed criminal cases against themselves. 112 Winners (21%) reported serious criminal cases including murder cases, attempt to murder, rape, kidnapping, etc.

ADR also noted that as opposed to clean candidates, the odds of candidates with criminal charges were nearly double. The chance of winning a candidate with criminal cases in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections is 13 percent, while it is 5 percent for a candidate with a clean record.

In 1990, the Goswami Electoral Reforms Committee highlighted the crippling effect of money and muscle power at elections.

The N.N. Vohra Committee, which submitted its report in October 1993, studied the issue of politics and nexus criminalization among criminals, politicians, and bureaucrats in India. The committee concluded that agencies like the CBI, IB, RAW, had collectively shared their opinion that a parallel government was essentially run by the criminal network.

In its 244th report, the Law Commission of India said that instead of politicians suspecting ties to criminal networks, as was the case earlier, it was individuals with extensive criminal records who began to enter politics. The Law Commission said 18% of the candidates contesting either national or state elections had criminal cases against them in the 10 years since 2004.

18th Report submitted to the Rajya Sabha in March 2007 by a parliamentary committee expressed the impression that politics should be cleansed from persons with proven criminal record.’ It said, “Political criminalisation is society’s bane and negation of democracy.”

            Supreme court on this gave direction to enact various laws which included:

  • SC left it to legislative intelligence to lay down legislation to disqualify candidates who face serious criminal charges.
  • SC claimed that Article 102 of the Constitution explicitly provides for a basis for disqualification from being elected or sitting as an MP to be specified by a parliamentary statute.
  • Parliament will create a law that makes it mandatory for political parties to expel members charged with “heinous and grievous” offences, such as rape , murder, and abduction and refuse criminals tickets in both parliamentary and assembly polls.

      Various guidelines have been issued to the candidates who stand for election:

  • Candidates will fill out forms issued by the Election Commission and state in bold letters details of the criminal proceedings pending against them.
  • A candidate contesting a party’s ticket must inform the party of the criminal cases and the party, in turn, must upload this to its official website.
  • This publicity must then be provided by the candidate and the party by publishing it in widely circulated newspapers in the region and in electronic media. It needs to be done at least 3 times after the nomination has been filed.[12]

                                                     Conclusion

Since the challenge is on many fronts, it needs to be tackled strategically, in stages, and with an eye to weakening and undermining the base of corruption rather than focusing on its symptoms.

 Fixing governance structure and successful policy financing regulation along with radical reforms is required to break the vicious cycle of corruption and deterioration of the standard of democratic politics. To order to make the whole government system more accountable and open, it is important to plug the gaps to existing legislation.

In the short term: (a) strict enforcement of current laws to combat corruption, instead of continually developing new ones when a problem occurs, and then not actively enforcing it; (b) the judiciary should strike down regressive political finance legislation, (c) popular protests against harmful government decisions would help; (d) Not only the statute, but also other attempts to resolve the problem of corruption and criminalization of democratic processes such as putting political parties under the Right to Information, state financing of elections, and inner-party democracy, etc., should be made time and time again.


[1] The constitution of India. 2019. Government of India.

http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/COI-updated.pdf

[2] The Hindu, September 27, 2013

[3] Report of the Committee Appointed by Sri Jayaprakash Narayan on Behalf of Citizens for Democracy for Electoral Reforms. Volume: 37 issue:  July 1, 1991. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0019556119910333?journalCode=ipaa

 

[4] Electoral reforms by Dinesh Goswami committee. https://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/lsdeb/ls10/ses3/1818039202.htm

[5] Law Commission of India Submits its Report on Electoral Reforms to the Ministry of Law & Justice. 12 March 2015. https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=116934

[6] Background paper on electoral reforms. Legislative department, Ministry of Law, Government of India. December 2010.

[7] Dr. M. Bhaskara Raju. Indian Electoral System – Major Issues and Remedies. Volume: 4 | Issue: 11 | November 2015. https://www.worldwidejournals.com/paripex/recent_issues_pdf/2015/November/November_2015_1446637758__11.pdf

[8]Sk Mendirattha. Press Information Bureau, Government of India. Electoral Reforms in India. https://pib.gov.in/newsite/mbErel.aspx?relid=97501

[9] Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Election Commission. Election Commission of India to implement “Political Parties Registration Tracking Management System” (PPRTMS). December 3 2019. https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1594617

[10] Press Information Bureau, Government of India.SVEEP – For Making Elections Inclusive. February 24, 2014. https://pib.gov.in/newsite/mbErel.aspx?relid=104195#:~:text=To%20achieve%20the%20objectives%20of,Indian%20democracy%20more%20participative%20and

[11] Ms. Mamta Awariwar. ELECTROL REFORMS: SUPREME COURT GUIDELINES.  July 2014. http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/46C4D6D6-4C63-40CE-B10C-AE353CD9A9F6.pdf

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