March 4, 2021

Election and Election Reforms

“The elections are the greatest symbol of participation and political reform”

Law Library lawbhoomi

-Mohammad Khatani

Introduction

Democracy means a government which is by the people for the people and of the people. To run a country with a huge population it is important to have a definite structure of ruling and a systematic process of selecting the people who rule. This process is generally referred to as elections. Being a largest democracy it is tough to directly involve all the people of the country to choose the leaders and thus the task of election is fragmented by way of representation. This is known as representative democracy.

India being a constitutional democracy follows a parliamentary system of government and has strong commitment to hold a free and fair election and thus the process of elections at various levels is carried out after definite intervals to maintain uniformity throughout the country.

What Are Elections and Why Are They Important.

Elections are the voice of citizens of a country. They are the way through which people elect and select their representatives who assure them to work for their benefits by way of election manifestos. These elections uphold and maintain the spirit of democracy which lies in free and fair representation of all.

Elections play a very important and vital role in a country as-

1) They provide to each citizen the right to choose their leader by casting the votes

2) They maintain the very spirit of sovereignty by giving power to select government in the hands of people. This spirit of sovereignty has been granted by the Constitution of India through preamble by using the words ‘WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA’

3) These elections help to check the functioning of leaders so elected and also empower the citizen to remove them when they do not perform their functions.

4) Elections curb the autocratic tendency of rulers which would have arisen in absence of elections.

System of Elections in India

Elections in India are conducted by the election commission provided under Article 324 of the Constitution.[1] Being a country with such a large population it is not possible to conduct direct elections. Thus to conduct elections in India the entire country is divided into a number of divisions known as constituencies. These constituencies can be single member constituencies or multi member constituencies.[2] For lok sabha elections the whole country is divided into 543 constituencies.[3] After the division of constituencies an electoral roll is prepared which consist of the voters present in the respective constituency. These are the people who are eligible to choose their representative by casting votes through universal adult franchise guaranteed under Article 326 of the Indian constitution. After this the nomination of candidates on a nomination paper is carried out through which each contestant contesting election gets a ticket of party which he is representing. The parties and representatives then set out their campaigns based on the party manifestos and this campaign ends nearly 48 hours before the Election Day. The elections are then carried out through Electronic Voting Machines (EVM’s) and the candidate who gains majority of votes is declared winner.

Loopholes in The Election System in India

Taking forward the legacy of Britishers, India adopted the system of parliamentary democracy. The success of this system completely depends upon free and fair elections. After India got independence and after the commencement of constitution a number of elections have been conducted throughout the country till date. With the passage of time the fairness in these election procedures began to deteriorate and many defects were seen in the system especially after the fifth general elections in 1971. The main defects in the election system are-

1) Lack of Transparency about candidates- The Indian election system has been encroached up by candidates who have criminal record. It has been found out that about 46% of the Members of Parliament have criminal records[4]. Such records have been constantly rising in numbers. The statistics show that these records have rose from 24% in 2004 to 30% in 2009, 34% in 2014 and 43% in 2019.

2) One of the major drawbacks of the political system is the use of money and muscle power. There are parties who have muscle and money power due to which they exercise dominance over the society. While on contrary those parties which do not possess this money and muscle power despite having intentions of reforming society are crushed behind in the run for power.

3) It is very important to apply the model code of conduct efficiently. These are the guidelines laid down by the election commission to conduct free and fair elections throughout the country. But the parties fail to abide by these rules and no strict regulations govern their application.

4) The reforms are also needed for rationalizing the election process

5) One of the major problems in India is caste politics, the parties often target people on the basis of caste lines to attain votes resulting into a dirty politics. Caste has been made the biggest ground for vote bank by the parties. This kind of politics is generally common at lower level.

6) The parties who get into power often begin to misuse the position and immunities guaranteed to them thereby creating a threat to governmental machinery.

7) More often now days the political field has been used as a business and not as a way to improve the society and to serve the country.[5]

8) Another defect in the electoral process is the coalition governments. Before the coalition of governments takes place each party independently has a different ideology but for the sake of power later these parties agree for coalition and hence later differences in ideology occurs.

9) The malpractices prevailing in the election system also creates a sense of distrust towards the government amongst the citizens.

Reforms

To overcome the above mentioned defects the election commission began to focus on bringing about electoral reforms. Many committees were also formed and the recommendations from their reports were also taken in consideration to bring about changes in the election process. Some of the major committees and their recommendations are-

1) Jay Prakash Narayan Committee

The committee presented its report in 1975. It consisted of following members: A G Noorani, R D Desai, P H Mavalankar, M R Masani and V M Tarkunde.[6] The committee made recommendations to bring change in the electoral process by electing a 3 member election commission and to reduce voting age from 21 to 18 years.

2) Dinesh Goswami Committee

The committee was appointed by Prime Minister V P SINGH in 1990, which recommended that the appointments of chief election commissioner should be done by president in consultation with chief justice of India and leader of opposition.[7] It also suggested amendments in Anti- defection law, and also to bar one contestant to contest elections from more than two constituencies.[8] The committee was headed by Dinesh Goswami.

3) Jeevan Reddy Committee

The commission recommended for banning the splitting or any kind of merger of political parties when the lok sabha is in its term. It also demanded adequate representation and also recommended to ban the contestant from contesting elections if any charges under the offences mentioned under Representation of People’s Act, 1951 have been framed or have been ordered to be framed by court against him.

As per the various recommendations made by the committee many reforms have been brought in election system from time to time. These reforms can be categorized as

Ø Before 2000’s

Ø After 2000’s

1) Electoral Reforms Before 2000’s

The major change that was brought in the election system were –

1) As per the recommendations made by Tarakund Committee the age of voting was reduced from 21 to 18 years. This was brought up by the Constitution (61st amendment) act.

2) As a result of recommendations made by the Dinesh Goswami Committee the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Conditions of Services) Act, 1991 and Representation of People (amendment) Act, 1998 was passed. Section 133C was inserted in the Representation of People’s (amendment) Act, 1998 which provided for deputation to Election Commissioners for period of employment.

3) The system of voting was changed from ballot paper to Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) in 1998.

4) According to the report submitted by Dinesh Goswami committee restriction was put on contestants from contesting election from more than 2 constituencies.

5) A complete ban on supply of liquor was put within polling area during 48 hours of conclusion of polls.

6) The period of campaigning for the contestants was also reduced.

ELECTORAL REFORMS AFTER 2000’s

1) The expenditure on election campaigning was fixed to a limit of Rs. 50-70 Lakhs for Lok Sabha and Rs 20-80 Lakhs for the Assembly elections.[9]

2) An appellate authority has also been set up under the Representation of Peoples (amendment) act, 2009 in districts against the orders of electoral registration officers.

3) From 2013, 6 categories of voters have been made eligible to vote by means of postal ballots.

4) A new category of choices in elections known as NOTA were introduced which means ‘NONE OF THE ABOVE’. It enables the voters to reject all the candidates contesting an election, in other words it gives voters a right to reject every candidate. NOTA came into existence on 27 September, 2013 after the decision made by Supreme Court on a Public Interest Litigation filed by an NGO named ‘People’s Union for Civil Liberties’. However with the provision of NOTA, rule 49-O of election rules stands repealed. NOTA is completely different from rule 49-O of election rules as it provides secrecy to the identity of voters.

5) A new technical innovation known as VVPAT which stands for ‘Verified Paper Audit Trail’ was introduced.[10] It is a slip which originates from a machine connected to the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and displays the poll symbol and name of candidate which voter has chosen. It has been introduced to bring transparency in the voting system by providing voters the facility to confirm the choice they have made.

6) De-criminalization of politics- In 2014, a committee headed by Justice A P Shah dealt with the issues concerning the disqualification of candidates with criminal background. It is now mandatory to declare about any criminal antecedents of candidate and a punishment of imprisonment up to six months and fine has been laid down on filing affidavit on false information. It has been made an electoral offence. The Supreme Court has directed the candidates contesting elections to disclose their criminal records and the charges pending against them. [11] The Supreme Court is also of the opinion that it is the right of citizens to know about the antecedents of candidates contesting elections. The court has read it under the ‘right to be informed’ which flows from the fundamental right of ‘freedom of speech and expression’.[12] The law commission in its 244th report has laid stress on enhancing the punishment for filing false affidavits to minimum 2 years and has also recommended that this should be made a ground for disqualification

7) The election commission in 2019 has put restriction on exit polls. Now it can be declared only after the final phase of elections gets over.

8) To curb the duplication of voter’s Id’s the scheme of linking aadhar has been brought. It will reduce chances of receiving false information or multiple representations by voters. The main object behind this is to bring accuracy in the electoral rolls.[13]

9) The election commission in the recent times has resorted to various technological advancements one amongst them is the use of De-Duplication Software. This is used to maintain quality of electoral roles by removing duplicate entries and helps to stop the practice of forged voting. It has also introduced the photographs of voters on their photo identity voter ID cards for easy identification.

10) In order to address the grievances of citizens ‘Cvigil’ app has been launched by the election commission under which the citizens can file their complaints and can also upload photos and videos regarding the same.

Apart from this many other reforms have also been done by the Election Commission from time to time to bring more transparency and to remove ambiguities in the election system of India.

Conclusion

Elections are the soul of systematic governance of a country, malfunctioning of which can cause a severe damage to the nation. The reforms in electoral system are important from time to time to keep the system in pace which dynamic world. These reforms can bring the democratic process more inclusive by reducing corruption, fraud, malpractices and thereby can make India a stronger democracy.

[1] 2, Dr. S.R.Myneni, Constitution law , 556 (ed.2,2017).

[2] Dr. S.R.Myneni, Political Science for Law Students ,425(ed.3 , reprint 2011)

[3] Indian Polity – Election System , Tutorials point, https://www.tutorialspoint.com/indian_polity/indian_polity_elections_system.htm.

[4] Krishnadas Rajgopal, Supreme court orders parties to publish criminal history of lok sabha, assembly candidates, The Hindu (Feb.13,2020 ; 12:36 IST) https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/supreme-court-orders-parties-to-publish-criminal-history-of-candidates/article30808148.ece.

[5] Electoral Reforms in India- Indian Polity, BYJU’s, https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/electoral-reforms-in-india/

[6] Negi Mohita, Major recommendations on electoral reforms and their recommendations in India, https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/essay/major-committees-on-electoral-reforms-and-their-recommendations-in-india/24930.

[7] R Ramesh, HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES OF ELECTORAL REFORMS IN INDIA.72 JSTOR, 1325, 1326 (2011) .

[8] Negi Mohita, Major recommendations on electoral reforms and their recommendations in India, https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/essay/major-committees-on-electoral-reforms-and-their-recommendations-in-india/24930.

[9] Civils360, Electoral Reforms in India, (Nov. 15, 2019) https://civils360.com/2019/11/15/electoral-reforms-in-india/.

[10] NONE OF THE ABOVE(NOTA), Elections.in, (April 22,2020), https://www.elections.in/none-of-the-above-option.html

[11] Public Interest Foundation v. Union of India (2018).

[12]. Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms (2002) 3 S.C.R. 294.

[13] Anubhuti Vishnoi , Linking of Adhaar and Voter ID May be Made Mandatory, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, (Dec.13,2018; 05:12 PM IST), https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/linking-of-aadhaar-voter-id-may-be-made-mandatory/articleshow/67069414.cms?from=mdr

Author Details: Rishabh Dixit is a student at New Law College, Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed to be University, Pune.

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