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ELECTRONICALLY TRANSMITTED POSTAL BALLOT SYSTEM (ETPBS)

Why in News?

  • In the recently concluded 2019 general elections, the Election Commission of India used Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) for service voters.

Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS):

  • Persons working in Central Forces under Arms Act and Government officials deployed in Embassies outside the country are classified as Service Voters.
  • Such service voters are provisioned for online enrolment.
  • On the introduction of the ETPBS, there has been a record turnout of service voters. 18,02,646 were enrolled as Service Electors in 2019. This is a high of 60.14% as recorded by the E-postal ballot.
  • The number of service voters included those from the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Home Affairs (Central Armed Police Forces), Ministry of External Affairs and the State Police.
  • ETPBS is developed by Election Commission of India with the help of Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC).
  • This system enables the entitled service voters to cast their vote using an electronically received postal ballot from anywhere outside their constituency. The voters who make such a choice will be entitled for Postal Ballot delivered through Electronic Media for a particular election.
  • It enables the voters to cast their vote on an electronically received postal ballot from their preferred location, which is outside their originally assigned voting constituency.
  • This system addresses the issue of time constraint for dispatch of postal ballot.

Who are eligible to avail of ETPBS?

  • Service Voters, other than those who opt for proxy voting (Classified Service Voters)
  • The wife of a Service Voter who ordinarily resides with him
  • Overseas Voters

Advantages of ETPBS:

  • It can be availed by service voters from anywhere outside their constituency.
  • It is easy and efficient.
  • It facilitates the creation of service voter electoral roll data.
  • It has two-layered security and is a secure system.
  • OTP is required to download encrypted Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot file.
  • Secrecy is maintained and no duplicate of casted ETPB is possible due to QR code.
  • PIN is required to decrypt, print and deliver ETPB.

Epistocracy

  • Epistocracy is a system in which the votes of people who can prove their political knowledge count more than the votes of people who can’t.
  • In other words, it’s a system that privileges the most politically informed citizens.

FROM PLATE TO PLOUGH: THE FARM-FACTORY CONNECT

Why in News:

  • Ashok Gulati, chair professor for agriculture at ICRIER, talked about importance of farm- factory connect.

Background: / Important Analysis:

  • As per the last report of National Statistical Office (NSO) released on May 31, the Gross Value Added (GVA) at basic prices (2011-12 prices) for the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2018- 19 has slumped to -0.1 percent for agriculture, forestry and fishery.
  • However, Agri-GDP grew at 2.9 per cent per annum in Last five year.

China Story:

  • Dr Gulati observe that the first thing Chinese government did in 1978, when it started off economic reforms was to reform agriculture.
  • Agri-GDP in China grew at 7.1 per cent per annum during 1978-84, and because the Chinese government also liberated price controls on Agri-commodities, farmers’ real incomes increased at 15 per cent per annum.
  • China registered an Agri-GDP growth of 4.5 per cent per annum during 1978-2016
  • This helps the manufacturing revolution, which was revved up through town and village enterprises (TVEs) to cater to domestic demand from rural areas.

Indian Story:

  • India has never had any major Agri-reforms and farmers’ incomes have remained very low. It has implications not only for overall Agri-GDP growth, but also for slowing down of manufacturing growth due to sluggish demand for industrial products in rural areas Recently, Indian industry is complaining that the rural demand is collapsing. Tractor sales are down by 13 per cent, two-wheeler sales are down by 16 per cent, car sales are down by similar percentage, and even FMCG (fast move consumer goods) sales are down in April 2019 over April 2018.

Reason for low farm productivity:

  • Restrictive policies: Our restrictive policies constrain the private sector to make Indian agriculture globally competitive.
  • Our restrictive policies constrain the private sector from building direct supply chains from farms to ports, which bypass the mandi system. This leads to a weak infrastructure for agri-exports.
  • Obsessive focus on inflation targeting: An obsessive focus on inflation targeting by suppressing food prices through myriad controls works against the farmer.
  • MSPs remain largely ineffective: Normally, MSPs remain largely ineffective for most commodities in larger parts of India. But even if they are operational through massive procurement operations, a policy of high MSPs can backfire when it goes beyond global prices.
  • Take the case of rice. India is the largest exporter of rice in the world, exporting about 12 to 13 MMT of the cereal per year.
  • If the government raises the MSP of rice, by say 20 per cent, rice exports will drop and stocks with the government will rise to levels far beyond the buffer stock norms.
  • It would be a loss of scarce resources. Besides, it would create unnecessary distortions adversely impacting the diversification process in agriculture towards high-value crops.
  • Low investment in Agri-R&D and its extension from lab to land: Today, India spends roughly 0.7 per cent of Agri-GDP on Agri-R&D and extension together. This needs to double in the next five years.
  • The meagre investments in Pusa Basmati 1121 and 1509, for example, have yielded basmati exports between $ 4 and 5 billion annually.
  • Investment in managing water efficiently
  • Investment in infrastructure for agri-exports value chains.

NATIONAL PEOPLE’S PARTY IS NOW A NATIONAL PARTY

Why in News:

  • National People’s Party, has been recognised as a “national party”.

More in News:

  • NPP is eighth party to get that recognition after Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI, CPI(M) and Trinamool Congress and the first from the Northeast
    The Election Commission lists political parties as “national party”, “state party” or “registered (unrecognised) party”.
  • The conditions for being listed as a national or a state party are specified under the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968.
  • Previously, the poll body used to assess the eligibility based on the performance in one election, but in 2016, it altered the rules to expand the assessing period to two elections (this could be one general election and one state one; or two general elections; or two state ones) after the one in which it was granted a national party or regional party status.

National Party:

  • For any political party to be eligible for recognition as a national Party, it has to satisfy any of these conditions
    6% vote share in the last Assembly polls in each of any four states, as well as four seats in the last Lok Sabha polls; or
    2% of all Lok Sabha seats in the last such election, with MPs elected from at least three states; or
  • Recognition as a state party in at least four states.
  • Note – The NPP has satisfied the last of these conditions. It is recognised as a state party in four states — Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland, besides Meghalaya.
  • It has earned that recognition by fulfilling different conditions in different states.
  • For recognition as a state party, any one of five conditions need to be satisfied. These are specified under paragraph 6A of the 1968 Order:
  • Two seats plus a 6% vote share in the last Assembly election in that state; or One seat plus a 6% vote share in the last Lok Sabha election from that state; or
  • 3% of the total Assembly seats or 3 seats, whichever is more; or
  • One of every 25 Lok Sabha seats (or an equivalent fraction) from a state; or
  • An 8% state-wide vote share in either the last Lok Sabha or the last Assembly polls.
  • In Meghalaya, the NPP easily satisfies all five conditions, with 19 Assembly  seats out of 59 and a 20.60% vote share in 2018, followed by one of the state’s two Lok Sabha seats and a 22% vote share this year.
  • In the other three states, it did not win a single Lok Sabha seat or get an 8% vote share in any, but earned recognition as a state party by virtue of its Assembly poll performances.
  • In Manipur, it won four seats in 2017,which satisfied condition (iii) listed under Paragraph 6B. In Assembly elections to Nagaland last year and Arunachal this year, the NPP fulfilled the conditions (i) and (iii).

RECORDING DISSENTING OPINION IN EC

Why in News?

  • The Election Commission has decided by majority that dissenting opinions in Model Code of Conduct (MCC) disputes will not be made part of any final order.
  • What was the dispute?
  • Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa had given dissenting opinion in at least four cases. These related to cases where the ECI (2:1 majority) did not find any violation in the speeches of PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.
  • Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa had written thrice to the Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora in this regard.
  • He had conveyed his decision to stay away from proceedings related to the MCC if the dissenting views were not incorporated in the orders.
  • With ECI’s recent decision, the dissenting opinions will only be included in internal files, as per previous practice.

What does the law say?

  • Article 324 of the Constitution vests the superintendence, direction and control of elections in an Election Commission of India.
  • It consists of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix.
  • At present the Election Commission is a multi-member body, with a Chief Election Commissioner and two other members.
  • The law requires the multi-member EC to transact business unanimously as far as possible. All three Commissioners now have equal decision-making powers.

What is the procedure in case of dissent?

  • Where there is a difference of opinion, decision is taken by majority.
  • All opinions carry equal weight, which means the CEC can be overruled by the two ECs.
  • If some difference of opinion persists even after oral deliberations and discussions, such dissent is recorded in the file.
  • In normal practice, while communicating the decision of the Commission in executive matters, the majority view is conveyed to the parties concerned.
    The dissent remains recorded in the file.
  • In case dissent is to be recorded in a case of judicative nature, the dissenting member may like to record a separate opinion/order.
  • However, despite the existence of the provision to take decisions by majority since 1993, very rarely has dissent been recorded.
  • When a matter is deliberated upon by the 3 Commissioners, they normally agree to a common course of action.
  • This does not, however, mean that there is no disagreement between the Commissioners.

Is the rejection of the demand justified?

  • The recent rejection of the demand of Mr. Lavasa on recording dissenting opinions in the orders may be technically and legally right.
    However, there was indeed a strong case for acceding to his demand.
  • This is especially true at least in regard to complaints against high functionaries such as the Prime Minister. The EC has been widely criticised for giving a series of ‘clean chits’ to the PM.
  • This was despite some questionable remarks that appeared to solicit votes in the name of the armed forces. Added to the dispute was the unexplained delay of several weeks in disposing of complaints against Mr. Modi. It is in this context that Mr. Lavasa’s dissenting opinion may have been relevant enough to merit inclusion in the EC’s orders.
  • People are entitled to know whether or not the poll panel’s key decisions are unanimous. In the present case, Mr. Lavasa has taken up the issue through as many as three letters. So it is reasonable to infer that there is some basis for his grievance.
  • The onus on EC to maintain a level-playing field and enforce the election code is quite high, especially when its credibility is under question.
  • It would be unfortunate if the majority in the EC were to be afraid of any public reaction that may result from disclosure of a split opinion.

ONLY A MARGINAL CHANGE IN NOTA VOTE PERCENTAGE

Why in News:

The percentage of votes for NOTA, or the none-of-the-above option, this year has remained virtually unchanged from last time, according to data from the Election Commission (EC) website.

background:

  • In 2019, about 1.04% of the voters felt that none of the candidates deserved their vote. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, this was around 1.08% of the voters.
  • The 2019 Lok Sabha elections stretched over six weeks and registered the highest voter turnout in the history of the Lok Sabha election.

NOTA:

  • None Of The Above (NOTA) is a ballot option designed to allow the voter to indicate disapproval of all of the candidates in a voting system.
  • It was introduced in India following the 2013 Supreme Court directive in the People’s Union
    for Civil Liberties v. Union of India judgment.
  • However, NOTA in India does not provide for a ‘right to reject’.
  • The candidate with the maximum votes wins the election irrespective of the number of NOTA votes polled.

What is the current pattern of NOTA?

  • NOTA polling figures are still small.
  • In the 2013 Assembly elections held in four States NOTA constituted 1.85% of the total votes polled.
  • Then it dropped to 0.95% in the 2014 Assembly elections held in eight States.
  • It increased to 2.02% in the 2015 Assembly elections held in Delhi and Bihar. While Delhi polled a mere 0.40%, Bihar saw 2.49% of NOTA votes, which remains the highest NOTA votes polled so far in any State in Assembly elections.
  • The number of NOTA votes polled was larger than the winning margin in 261 Assembly constituencies and in 24 constituencies in the Lok Sabha elections since 2013.
  • Therefore, in these constituencies the NOTA votes did make a difference to the election results. Reserved constituencies – Reserved constituencies have seen a relatively larger number of NOTA votes. This point to the continued social prejudice against political reservation for SC/STs. Left-Wing Areas – Constituencies affected by left-wing extremism have also recorded higher NOTA performance and here probably it served as an instrument of protest against the State itself.
  • Mainstream Parties – It is comparatively higher in the constituencies which have seen a direct contest between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. This might be some indication of the people’s disenchantment with two mainstream political parties.
  • NOTA is also used to express their protest against many things they perceive wrong in the political system.

What is the way ahead?

  • So far, a small number of Indian voters have come to see NOTA as an instrument of protest. The perceived cynicism of Indian voters against the political class thus seems exaggerated. Nevertheless, it is important to note that these voters have used the democratic means of NOTA to express their resentment rather than boycotting the polls outright. This electoral option will become a meaningful means of negative voting only if it becomes a ‘right to reject’ rather than being a symbolic instrument to express resentment as it is now.

ELECTION COMMISSION REJECTS OPPOSITION PARTIES’ DEMAND ON VVPAT VERIFICATION

Why in News:

The Election Commission (EC) rejected the demand of Opposition parties for tallying of the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT)

Background: / What is a VVPAT system?

  • Voter verifiable paper audit trial (VVPAT) is an independent system attached to an EVM that allows the voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended.
  • When a vote is cast, a slip is printed on the VVPAT printer containing the serial number, name and symbol of the candidate voted.
  • This remains visible to you through a transparent window for seven seconds.
  • Thereafter, this printed slip automatically gets cut and falls into a sealed drop box.
  • If there is a need, these printouts can later be counted.

How did the VVPAT system evolve in India?

  • Many political parties expressed their satisfaction with EVMs initially.
  • But some parties requested the Commission to consider introducing VVPATs for further transparency and verifiability of the votes cast.
  • The Commission referred the matter to its technical committee on EVMs to examine and make a recommendation to the Commission.
  • The committee first met with the manufacturers and then with political parties and other civil society members to explore the design requirements of the VVPAT system.
  • In 2011, BEL and ECIL made a prototype of the VVPAT and demonstrated it to the technical committee and the Election Commission.
  • In the same year the Commission conducted simulated elections for the field trial of the VVPAT system in various places including Thiruvananthapuram, Ladakh, Cherrapunji and Jaisalmer.
  • Two years later, the government amended the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 allowing the Commission to use VVPATs along with EVMs.
  • These were first used in the bye-election for the Noksen Assembly seat in Nagaland in 2013. Thereafter VVPATs have been used in select constituencies in every election to the State Assemblies.
  • They were deployed in eight Parliamentary constituencies during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, VVPATs will be used in all the constituencies.

Why is it important?

  • In the world’s largest democracy, every vote counts and the EVMs and VVPATs try and ensure that the massive election process is in tune with the latest technological advancements. The Election Commission has never doubted the workings of EVMs and their utility in a free and fair electoral process.
  • However, VVPATs add another layer of transparency and reliability to convince voters about the sanctity of EVMs. EVMs and VVPATs also quicken the election process as counting votes on EVMs takes much lesser time than counting paper ballots.
  • The EVMs and VVPATs are also environment-friendly as they use very little paper compared to paper ballots.

TALLY EVM-VVPAT SLIPS BEFORE FINAL COUNTING, OPPOSITION TELLS EC

Why in News:

  • Twenty-two Opposition parties met the Election Commission (EC) demanding that tallying of the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips in five polling booths in each Assembly segment with the electronic voting machines (EVMs) be done prior to the counting of votes.

Details:

  • If any discrepancy is found anywhere in the VVPAT verification, hundred per cent counting of paper slips of VVPATs of all polling stations of that Assembly segment should be done, the parties demanded.
  • The EC, however, remained non-committal and told them that there would be a special meeting of the full Commission to examine the issue.

Electronic voting machines (EVMs)

  • An EVM consists of a “control unit” and a “balloting unit”. The control unit is with the Election Commission-appointed polling officer; the balloting unit is in the voting compartment into where voter casts her vote in secret.
  • It runs on a single alkaline battery fitted in the control unit, and can even be used in areas that have no electricity.
  • They are manufactured by Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL).
  • VVPATs are an independent verification system designed to allow voters to verify that their votes were cast correctly, to
  • detect possible election fraud/malfunction and to provide a means to audit the stored results in case of disputes.

Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT)

  • In VVPATs, a paper slip is generated bearing serial number, name and symbol of the candidate along with recording of vote in CU. The printed slip is visible (for 7 seconds) in a viewing window attached to BU in voting compartment.
  • In Subramaniam Swamy vs ECI (2013), SC said VVPAT is necessary for transparency in voting and must be implemented by ECI.

OPPOSITION TO MEET ECI TODAY OVER VVPAT VERIFICATION

Why in News:

  • Leaders of Opposition parties will meet Election Commission (EC) officials to urge the panel to spell out the mechanisms to address any mismatch between voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) and electronic voting machine (EVM) tallies during the counting of votes.

Details:

  • Opposition parties had suggested that if there is a discrepancy, then the votes of the entire Assembly segment should be counter-checked with the VVPAT machines.
  • It is said that any discrepancy would raise a doubt on the integrity of the entire electoral process and the EC is yet to bring out the guidelines it promised.

Background:

VVPAT system

  • Voter verifiable paper audit trial (VVPAT) is an independent system attached to an EVM that allows the voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended.
  • When a vote is cast, a slip is printed on the VVPAT printer containing the serial number, name and symbol of the candidate voted.
  • This remains visible to you through a transparent window for seven seconds.
  • Thereafter, this printed slip automatically gets cut and falls into a sealed drop box. If there is a need, these printouts can later be counted.
  • It is intended as an independent verification system for EVM designed to
  • • allow voters to verify that their votes are casted correctly,
  • • detect possible election fraud or malfunction and
  • • Provide a means to audit the stored electronic results.

Advantages in VVPATs:

  • Enables to verify vote: Instant feedback to voter that vote polled has been allocated to the intended candidate.
  • Enables authorities to count the votes manually if there is a dispute in the electronically polled votes. Operates under a Direct Recording Election system (DRE) which detects fraud and existent malfunctions. Will ensure greater transparency in voting process.
  • Gives both the voters and political parties an assurance.

SC TURNS DOWN OPPOSITION PLEA FOR INCREASED VVPAT VERIFICATION

Why in News:

  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a plea by 21 Opposition parties to review its judgment rejecting 50% random physical verification of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) using Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

Details

  • On April 8, a Bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to increase physical counting of VVPAT slips to five random EVMs in each Assembly segment/constituency.

Fool-proof’ polls

  • Its April verdict, the court had assured the petitioners, would ensure a ‘fool-proof’ Lok Sabha polls 2019.
  • The Opposition had found the Supreme Court’s April 8 verdict a far shot from what it
  • wanted — VVPAT verification in 50% or 125 polling booths in each constituency.
  • The physical scrutiny of slips in five EVMs has increased the VVPAT verification percentage from .44% to less than 2%.

VVPAT

  • Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) is a device which dispenses a slip with the symbol of the party for which a person has voted for. The slip appears on a small window for seven seconds and then drops in a box. The voter cannot take it home. VVPAT displays
  • candidate’s serial number. Name of the candidate and Corresponding symbol for whom the vote has been cast.

Advantages in VVPATs:

  • Enables to verify vote: Instant feedback to voter that vote polled has been allocated to the intended candidate.
  • Enables authorities to count the votes manually if there is a dispute in the electronically polled votes.
  • Operates under a Direct Recording Election system (DRE) which detects fraud and existent malfunctions.
  • Will ensure greater transparency in voting process. Gives both the voters and political parties an assurance.

M3 EVMs

  • M3 EVMs are the third generation EVMs. The M3 EVMs can keep data of 384
  • candidates. M3 EVMS also has added features like Tamper Detection and Self Diagnostics. The tamper detection feature makes an EVM inoperative the moment anyone tries to open the machine. The Self diagnostic feature checks the EVM fully every time it is switched on. Any change in its hardware or software will be detected.

CHALLENGING ELECTORAL BONDS

Why is it in News?

  • The Election Commission of India, in an affidavit filed in the court, said the electoral bonds had made political funding opaque and would have “serious repercussions on transparency of political funding” owing to its anonymous nature.

What is electoral bond scheme?

  • It is an attempt to “cleanse the system of political funding in the country.” A donor may buy an electoral bond at specified banks and branches using electronic modes of payment and after having completed the KYC (know your customer) requirements.

Where are they available?

  • The electoral bonds are available at specified branches of the State Bank of India (SBI) for 10 days each in the months designated by the government from time to time. The bonds may be bought for any value, in multiples of ₹1,000, ₹10,000, ₹1 lakh, ₹10 lakh or ₹1 crore.

Why controversy?

  • The bone of contention over the electoral bond scheme is that while the government has consistently said the scheme will increase transparency in electoral funding, it has ignored the reservations of several political parties and even the Election Commission.
  • The parties do not have to disclose where their money comes from, as long as the mode of funding is through electoral bonds. This provision, to exempt parties from declaring the sources of the electoral bonds they receive, was done through an amendment to the Representation of the People Act by the Finance Act, 2017. Another amendment that has been criticised is the one to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which the Election Commission said will allow political parties to receive funding from foreign companies with a majority stake in Indian companies.

Are people using these bonds?

  • Data revealed through the Right to Information replies by the State Bank of India show that large sums have been bought through electoral bonds. A separate RTI reply by the SBI has shown that the bank had sold ₹222 crore worth of electoral bonds in March 2018, the only month in financial year 2017-18 when these bonds were sold.

RELEASE OF MODI BIOPIC PUT OFF

Why is it in News?

  • SC agreed to urgently clear a plea on Modi biopic. It further said the biopic is meant to manipulate the voters in violation of model code of conduct in place for Lok Sabha polls.

Model code of conduct:

  • The Model Code of Conduct is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India to regulate the conduct of political parties and their candidates in the run up to elections and is aimed at ensuring free and fair elections.

When did it come about?

  • The MCC was first proposed by Kerala in its 1960 assembly elections.
  • It was later adopted by the Election Commission of India (EC) during mid-term elections in 1968 and 1969.
  • It has since been updated many times based on cases fought in courts.
  • EC first issued a Model Code of Conduct for political parties at the time of the fifth general elections, held in 1971.
  • The Code has evolved over the years to include behaviour norms for the party in power and the public servants who report to it.

Key features:

  • General conduct of candidates
  • Candidates’ meetings/processions
  • Appointment of observers
  • Maintenance of polling booths on the day
  • Contents in election manifestos
  • The Code of Conduct comes into force immediately after the elections are announced by the EC. It applies to political parties, their candidates and polling agents, the government in power and all government employees. Public places for holding election rallies and helipads for flights in connection with elections are to be made available to all parties on the same terms and conditions on which they are used by the party in power. Ministers and other government authorities should not announce any financial grants to the people; they should not lay foundation stones for or inaugurate any projects; they should not promise public facilities like roads; and they should not make any ad hoc government appointments.

Is it legally binding?

  • The Model Code of Conduct does not have any statutory backing.
  • But the Code has come to acquire significance in the past decade, because of its strict enforcement by the EC. Some of the more serious offences listed in the Code have also found their way into the statute books. So, for some of the offences mentioned, candidates can be tried under the Indian Penal Code or the Representation of the People Act 1951.

Representation of Peoples Act provides for the following:

  • Qualification of
  • Preparation of electoral
  • Delimitation of
  • Allocation of seats in the Parliament and state

Election commission of India

  • The Election Commission of India, abbreviated as ECI is a constitutional body responsible for administering elections in India. It was established on January 25, 1950. The major aim of election commission of India is to define and control the process for elections conducted at various levels, Parliament, State Legislatures, and the offices of the President and Vice President of India. According to Article 324 of Indian Constitution, the Election Commission of India has superintendence, direction, and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature (state legislative assembly & state legislative council) of every State and to the offices of President and Vice-President of India.

Appointment & Tenure of Commissioners:

The President has the power to select Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners. They have tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.

They have the same status and receive pay and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India. The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through accusation by Parliament

Key functions of the Election Commission of India:

  • The Election Commission of India is considered the guardian of free and reasonable elections. It issues the Model Code of Conduct in every election for political parties and candidates so that the decorum of democracy is maintained.
  • It regulates political parties and registers them for being eligible to contest elections.
  • It publishes the allowed limits of campaign expenditure per candidate to all the political parties, and also monitors the same.
  • The political parties must submit their annual reports to the ECI for getting tax benefit on contributions. It guarantees that all the political parties regularly submit their audited financial reports.

Simultaneous Election

Meaning:

Simultaneous elections should imply that elections to all the three tiers of constitutional institutions take place in a synchronized and co-ordinated fashion. What this effectively means is that a voter casts his vote for electing members for all tiers of the Government on a single day.

The third tier institutions is primarily a State subject as per the Constitution. Further, considering the facts that elections to the third tier institutions are directed and controlled by the State Election Commissions and their sheer numbers in the country is significantly large.

So the term “Simultaneous Elections” in India’s context is elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are held together. In such a scenario, a voter would normally cast his/her vote for electing members of Lok Sabha and State Assembly on a single day and at the same time.

Simultaneous elections at the Parliament and state assemblies’ level have been mooted out by many as a remedy to this problem of Indian democracy.

History:

  • The concept of simultaneous elections is in-fact not new to the India.
  • The first election after Independence was held simultaneously for the Parliament and State Assemblies in 1952. The practice was followed without any hitch in three subsequent elections held in 1957, 1962, and 1967.
  • Things after 1967 changed. Due to irresponsible and politically motivated use of article 356, many state assemblies were dissolved in between leading to finalisation of this delinking process.

Relevant Constitutional and Statutory provisions:

Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha:

  • Article 83 of the Constitution of India provides for the tenure of both Houses of the Parliament (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha).
  • Article 83(2)11 provides for a term of five years for Lok Sabha, from the date of its first sitting unless dissolved earlier.
  • Article 83 (2) of the Constitution provides that when a proclamation of emergency is in operation, the term of the House may be extended for a period not exceeding one year at a time by Parliament by law and not extending in any case beyond a period of six months after the Proclamation has ceased to operate.

State Legislation:

  • Article 172 (1) provides for five year tenure for State Legislative Assembly from the date of its first sitting.
  • Article 172 (1) deals with state legislation during emergency period.

Election Commission:

  • Article 324 mandates the Election Commission of India (ECI) to supervise, direct and control elections to Lok Sabha & State Legislative Assemblies.
  • Besides the above, to facilitate the conduct of elections by the Election Commission of India, the Parliament has enacted the Representation of People Act, 1950 and Representation of People Act, 1951 and the Rules framed there under, viz., Registration of Electors Rules, 1960 and Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.

Current system of Holding Elections:

  • Frequent electoral cycles disrupt normal public life by impacting the delivery of essential services. They also provide opportunities to unscrupulous elements to create tears in the social fabric of society.
  • In terms of governance and implementation of development programmes, enforcing the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is detrimental.
  • Frequent elections pose a huge burden on resources — both manpower and financial.
  • The cost of elections runs into thousands of crores and has been rising steadily. The opportunity cost of these lost resources is too high to ignore as India is a resource-constrained developing economy. The expenses incurred by the Government in preparation of electoral rolls, I-cards, election booths & officers etc is significant.

Rising Electoral Expenditure for the Political Parties:

  • The political parties exhausted huge crore on publicity, travel and on other expenses and many crore on expenditure towards candidates.
  • It’s a burden for the government, taxpayers, political parties and the candidates.

Lack of bold decision-making:

  • Electoral compulsions change the focus of policy making.
  • If a party which is in power at centre loses election in a state, it is projected by the opposition as the results have made severe dent on its mandate to rule. This also leads to loss of confidence in the ruling regime. A negative atmosphere is created which contributes in affecting the governance of the country in an adverse way.
  • A loss in a state election in the middle of the tenure of a government at national level is rapidly projected as a loss of credibility and hence all efforts are made by the strengthened opposition to stall any new reform measures.

Security issues:

  • Security personnel comprising paramilitary forces and state police officers across the country to protect polling stations and safeguard election.
  • Security personnel and government officials are effectively put on election duty for many months in a year. A case in point is the recurring engagement of teachers for election duty, as a result of which students suffer.
  • Elections may also lead to loss of lives at many places.
  • With the elections happening so often, these features have become a recurrent theme of our democratic process.
  • Frequent elections disrupt normal public life. Holding of political rallies disrupts road traffic and also leads to noise pollution.
  • Frequent elections perpetuate caste, religion and communal issues across the country.
  • The frequent elections are also an ever increasing administrative burden for the Election Commission of India (ECI).

Countries conducting simultaneous elections:

  • England has chosen to hold general elections and local government elections on the same day.
  • Italy, Belgium, and Sweden are some countries that conduct general and local elections together.
  • In Canada, municipal elections are on fixed dates while provincial and federal elections take place at any time.
  • In South Africa, national and provincial elections are held simultaneously.

Recommendation:

  • 170th report of Law Commission of India on ‘Reform of the Electoral Laws’.
  • First annual report of the Election Commission submitted in 1983, the then chief election commissioner R.K. Trivedi recommended simultaneous election.
  • National Commission to Review the Working of Constitution is: “Hold State level and parliamentary level elections at the same time. This would reduce election expenditure.
  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice headed by EMS Natchiappan submitted its report on the Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies.
  • The Election Commission has supported the idea of holding simultaneous elections to Parliament and State Assemblies, in a letter sent to the Law Ministry in May, 2016.
  • The Niti Aayog’s discussion paper, ‘Analysis of Simultaneous Elections: The What, Why and How’, bats for simultaneous elections stating that frequent polls change the focus of policy making because “short-sighted populist” and “politically safe” measures are accorded higher priority over difficult structural reforms.

Merits:

  • Holding simultaneous elections will ensure consistency, continuity and governance.
  • Reduces burden on security forces this make them to concentrate on their regular activities.
  • Reduces expenditure of election commission, and other key stakeholders.
  • As elections happen frequently , political parties worry about need to keep inflow of funds and contributions continued. This was consequently blamed as one of the key drivers for corruption and black-money in the country.
  • Hence, Simultaneous elections can also be a means to curb corruption and build a more conducive socio-economic ecosystem.

Demerits:

  • Our general and state elections are not held simultaneously and thereby one part or the other of our country is always electorally alert.
  • Holding simultaneous elections may influence voter behaviour in a manner that voters would end up voting on national issues even for state elections.
  • This would lead to larger national parties winning both State and Lok Sabha elections thereby marginalizing regional parties which often represent the interests of local social and economic groups
  • It is practically not feasible for the ECI to conduct elections at such a massive scale – considering logistics, security and manpower resource requirements.
  • Having to face electorate more than once every 5 year enhances the accountability of politicians and keeps them on their toes. Simultaneous election break this.
  • Periodical elections create many jobs during elections, boosting the economy at the grass-root levels.
  • The process of simultaneous elections in the country by synchronizing election cycles the first time is highly tough task.
  • As the constitutional provisions do not fix the term of either a State Assembly or the Lok Sabha, what would happen in case the ruling party or coalition loses majority in between term, either in Lok Sabha or in State assemblies.
  • Elections are easy-to-read barometers of public mood and guard ruling parties and government against complacency. Leaders utilise polls to take corrective measures. Simultaneous election doesn’t give way for it.

Barriers:

  • Various State Assemblies complete their normal term and that they are not dissolved prematurely. How would terms of Assemblies/Lok Sabha be synchronized for the first time. Would it be feasible to extend or curtail the existing terms of some State Assemblies to facilitate the above.
  • Implementing simultaneous polls would require a substantial shift from the status quo and would involve amendments to the Constitution and election-related laws.
  • Sharing of cost incurred for simultaneous election. Till now the entire expenditure on conduct of elections to Lok Sabha is borne by Government of India and on State Legislatures by the respective. But if simultaneous election conducted how the state and centre shares the expenditure.

Conclusion:

  • India, being a developing country, cannot ill afford to bear the huge expenditure involved in electoral exercise. From the above discussion it is evident that the issues that we are facing now in terms of spiralling costs of elections, administrative burden on government and Election Commission and governance deficit resulting from these can be better resolved if we revert back to our earlier electoral system whereby we had simultaneous elections for both parliament and state assemblies.
  • Holding simultaneous elections is not merely about elections; it is about stable governance.
  • If the purpose of amendments is to strengthen democracy and governance, they should be brought in.
  • Simultaneous elections can bring the much-needed operational efficiency in this exercise.