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The Law Commission of India submits its report on electoral reforms

The Law Commission of India on 12th 2015 submitted its report on Electoral Reforms to the Union Ministry of Law and Justice, proposing wide ranging reforms

Following is the summary of the report:

1.Election Finance

The Law Commission has mentioned wide ranging reforms on the issue of
  • candidate expenditure limits
  • disclosure obligations of individual candidates
  •  political parties
  •  penalties  on political parties
  •  examining the issue of state funding of elections.

2.Regulation of Political Parties and Inner Party Democracy

  •   The Commission recommend the requirement of accompanying memorandum/ rules/ regulations with the party’s application. This accompanying document, by whatever name it is called, should also contain a specific provision stating that the party would shun violence for political gains, and would avoid discrimination or distinction based on race, caste, creed, language or place of residence.
  • A new Chapter IVC should be inserted dealing with the “Regulation of Political Parties” and incorporating the Commission’s previous recommendations in its 170th Report with certain modifications. Thus, sections 29J to 29Q will deal with:-
    •  internal democracy,
    • party Constitutions,
    • party organisation,
    • internal elections,
    • candidate selection,
    • voting procedures,
    •  the ECI’s power to de-register a party in certain cases of non-compliance.
  • Another section, section 29R should be inserted, providing for the de-registration of a political party for failure to contest Parliamentary or State elections for ten consecutive years.

3. Proportional Representation

  • The Law Commission recommends that the findings of the 170th Law Commission Report on the proportional system may be examined by the Government to determine whether its proposals can be made workable in India at present.
4. Anti Defection Law in India
  • The Law Commission recommends a suitable amendment to the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, which shall have the effect of vesting the power to decide on questions of disqualification on the ground of defection with the President or the Governor, as the case may be, (instead of the Speaker or the Chairman), who shall act on the advice of the ECI. This would help preserve the integrity of the Nation.

5. Strengthening the office of the Election Commission of India

 The ECI should be strengthened by first, giving equal constitutional protection to all members of the Commission in matters of
  • Removability;
  • Making the appointment process of the Election Commissioners
  •  The CEC consultative
  •  creating a permanent, independent Secretariat for the ECI.

6.  Paid News and Political Advertisements

  • In order to curb the practice of disguised political advertisement
    •  disclosure provisions should be made mandatory for all forms of media. T
    • he purpose of disclosure is two fold
      •  first, to help the public identify the nature of the content (paid content or editorial content)
      • to keep the track of transactions between the candidates and the media.
  • Thus, a new section 127C should be inserted in the RPA to deal with the non-disclosure of interests in political advertising. The ECI can regulate the specifics of the disclosure required.

7. Opinion Polls

  • The regulation of opinion polls is necessary to ensure that
    •  the credentials of the organisations conducting the poll is made known to the public
    •  the public has a chance to assess the validity of the methods used in conducting the opinion poll
    • the public is made adequately aware that opinion polls are in the nature of forecasts or predictions, and as such are liable to error.

Consequently, new sections 126C and 126D should be inserted in the RPA.

8. Compulsory Voting

  • The Law Commission does not recommend the introduction of compulsory voting in India and in fact, believes it to be highly undesirable for a variety of reasons described above such as being undemocratic, illegitimate, expensive, unable to improve quality political participation and awareness, and difficult to implement.

9. Election Petitions

  • The introduction of one or more “election benches” in each High Court, designated so by the Chief Justice of the particular High Court, exercising jurisdiction over all election disputes under the RPA.
  •  A single Judge shall ordinarily exercise such jurisdiction, although the Chief Justice can assign more judges, if they so desire.

9. NOTA and the Right to Reject

  • The Law Commission currently rejects the extension of the NOTA principle to introduce a right to reject the candidate and invalidate the election in cases where a majority of the votes have been polled in favor of the NOTA option.
  • This is premised on the fact that,
    •  the underlying premise of the Supreme Court’s decision in NOTA was the importance of safeguarding the right to secrecy, this secrecy rationale does not pre-empt the right to reject. 
    •  good governance, the motivating factor behind the right to reject, can be successfully achieved by bringing about changes in political horizontal accountability, inner party democracy, and decimalization However, the issue might be reconsidered again in the future.

10. The Right to Recall

  • The Law Commission is not in favor of introducing the right to recall in any form because
    •  it can lead to an excess of democracy
    • undermines the independence of the elected candidates
    • ignores minority interests
    • increases instability and chaos
    • increases chances of misuse and abuse
    • is difficult and expensive to implement in practice, especially given that India follows the first past the post system.

11.  Totaliser for Counting of Votes

  • The Commission reiterates and endorses the ECI’s suggestion for introducing a totaliser for the counting of votes recorded in electronic voting machines to prevent the harassment of voters in areas where voting trends in each polling station can be determined.
  • Prior to the introduction of EVMs, ballot papers could be mixed under Rule 59A of the Election Rules, although this was not permitted for EVMs. Using a totaliser would increase the secrecy of votes during counting, thus preventing the disclosure of voting patterns and countering fears of intimidation and victimisation.
  • Thus, similar to the existing Rule 59A, the Commission proposes to amend Rule 66A to empower the ECI to decide when, and in which constituency and polling booths, to employ a totaliser, after taking into consideration various factors and the overall context of the elections.

12.  Restriction on Government Sponsored Advertisements

  • The Commission recommends regulating and restricting government sponsored advertisements six months prior to the date of expiry of the House/Assembly to
    •  maintain the purity of elections
    • prevent the use of public money for partisan interests of,inter alia
    • highlighting the government’s achievements
    • ensure that the ruling party or candidate does not get an undue advantage over another in the spirit of free and fair elections.
  • This can be achieved by inserting a new Chapter VIIB in Part V of the RPA prohibiting State/Central government sponsored advertisements in the print or electronic media or by way of banners and hoarders, six months prior to date of expiry of the term of the Lok Sabha/Vidhan Sabha.

However, an exception has been carved out for advertisements highlighting the government’s poverty alleviation programmes or any health related schemes

13. Restriction on the Number of Seats from which a Candidate May Contest

  • The Commission recommends an amendment of section 33(7) of the RPA, which permits a candidate to contest any election (parliamentary, assembly, biennial council, or bye-elections) from up to two constituencies.
  • In view of the expenditure of time and effort; election fatigue; and the harassment caused to the voters, section 33(7) should be amended to permit candidates to stand from only one constituency.

14. Independent Candidates

  •  The Law Commission recommends that independent candidates be disbarred from contesting elections because the current regime allows a proliferation of independents, who are mostly dummy/non-serious candidates or those who stand (with the same name) only to increase the voters’ confusion.
  • Thus, sections 4 and 5 of the RPA should be amended to provide for only political parties registered with the ECI under section 11(4) to contest Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha elections.

15. Preparation and Use of Common Electoral Rolls

  • The Law Commission endorses the ECI’s suggestions regarding the introduction of :
    •  common electoral rolls for Parliamentary
    • Assembly and local body elections.
  • However, given that introducing common electoral rolls will require an amendment in the State laws pertaining to the conduct of local body elections, the Central Government should write to the various States in this regard. We hope that the States will consider amending their laws based on the suggestions of the ECI and the Law Commission.