Context:

The statement by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently said that the Election Commission has failed to curb ‘invisible money’ in polls is remarkable.

Introduction:

Reforms suggested by the Election and Law Commissions must be given a chance.

Working of Election Commission (EC):

  • The Election Commission (EC) works in accordance with Article 324 of the Constitution of India, the Representation of the People Act (RP Act), 1951 and the rules framed by the government there under, and various judgments of the Supreme Court and High Courts.
  • The power to frame rules under the RP Act has not been given to the EC by successive governments, which includes the current one.

Loopholes in the present system:

  • The apex court pointed out that there is a “gap” caused by the lack of a parliamentary law which transparently spells out the process of appointment of an election commissioner.
  • Presently, the government appoints election commissioners without consulting other political parties.
  • The apex court said that the Article 324 mandates that the appointments to the EC are done as per the enabling law. But presently there is no law in place to govern the appointment to the EC.
  • Black money plays a huge role in elections and that parties attribute disproportionate parts of their funds to donations from volunteers.
  • Disbursement of funds
  • Arbitrarily appointments of election commissioners.
  • Election related disputes and violence
  • Most of the reform proposals by the Election Commission have not been acted upon.
  • The government’s actions, if any, are not available in the public domain.
  • The flow of unaccounted money and muscle power during elections and lots of corruption in public life.
  • The voting in elections to Lok Sabha and Assembly are optional in India, but it is compulsory in 33 countries of the world including Brazil, Australia and Egypt, etc.
  • The Gujarat Local Authorities Law (Amendment) Act 2009 has made voting compulsory in local bodies’ election.

Issues involved in electoral politics of India:

  • The elections at present are not being held in ideal conditions because of enormous amount of money power and muscle power needed for winning the elections.
  • There are many factors on the basis of which elections is fought in India like poverty, casteism, communalism, criminalization of politics, poll violence, booth capturing , non-serious independent candidates, unemployment etc.
  • Misuse of government machinery take different forms, such as use of government vehicles for canvassing, advertisements at the cost of government and public exchequer highlighting their achievements, disbursements out of the discretionary funds at the disposal of the ministers, etc, which gives an unfair advantage to the ruling party at the time of elections.
  • Non serious Independent candidates are largely floated by serious candidates either to cut sizeable portion of votes of rival candidates or to split the votes on caste lines or to have additional physical force at polling station and counting centers.

Electoral reforms:

The following electoral reforms are needed for strengthening democracy in India

  • The apex court told the Central government that Election Commission should have people neutral to all political parties
  • The Election Commissioners supervise and hold elections and play a greater role in strengthening democracy so their selection has to be made in the most transparent and fair manner.
  • Money power or political funding in the election is the common phenomena which need to address
  • The Election Commission sent 22 proposals in 2004 related to electoral reforms. In December 2016, it sent 47 proposals including those of “Election expenses and election petition “, Election campaign and advertisements”, and “Election expenses and election petitions”, “Election campaign and advertisement”, and “Reforms relating to political parties”.
  • Introducing financial transparency and accountability in the working of the political parties.
  • The Central Information Commission (CIC) had said in a full bench decision in June 2013 that six national political parties were indeed ‘public authorities’ under the RTI Act as they fulfilled all conditions specified is Section 2(h) of the RTI which defines ‘public authority’.
  • Electoral bonds will make ‘invisible money’ visible. These bonds will be bearer in character to keep the donar anonymous.
  • Transparency in Electoral Funding is necessary.
  • The Budget proposed significant proposals to remove the limit of 7.5% on profits that a company can donate to a political party.
  • The Budget also proposed to remove the requirement that the company making a donation to a political party discloses the name of the party and the amount donated.
  • Bringing the political parties under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
  • Election Commission wants the paid news to be made electoral offence.

Other reforms:

  • The ruling parties should play key responsibilities in strengthen the role of Election Commission by enabling suitable laws and creating healthy political environment.
  • The CEC and Election Commissioners shall be made accountable to the common people for their activities which incur wastage of public as well as donar money.
  • Necessary laws need to be made in this regard this can be done through Parliament.
  • All complaints, limitations, and inconsistencies of election laws, rules, orders, and ordinances must be identified and resolve with the group of law experts.
  • A prosecution wing of the EC should be set up for dealing with all kinds of irregularities of election.
  • The EC should be given enough authority to cancel the candidature of any person if proven guilty of violating electoral laws and code of conduct.
  • The EC should increase its own capacity in term of empowering staff and developing infrastructural and logistical strength.
  • Election Commission should have powers against contempt which is very much available in other countries. This can be done by amending Contempt of Courts Act 1971.

 

Law Commission recommendations:

  • The Law Commission recommended bringing political parties under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005
  • The Law Commission studied the issue in 1998-99 and presented its comprehensive assessment and proposals in its 170th report, titled ‘Reform of the Electoral Laws’.
  • The report said that, if democracy and accountability constitute the core of our constitutional system, the same concepts must also supply to and bind the political parties which are integral to parliamentary democracy.
  • It is the political parties that form the government, man the Parliament and run the governance of the country.
  • It is necessary to introduce internal democracy, financial transparency and accountability in the working of the political parties.
  • The Law Commission issued another report (255th) in March 2015 wherein it talked about “Election finance reforms”.
  • The 255th report contains valuable recommendations to reform the election finance system, but then there has to be a willingness to do so. The willingness seems to be to ensure anonymity.

Steps taken by Election Commission to curb black money:

  • The Election Commission recently has urged the government to ban anonymous contributions of 2,000 and above made to political parties to curb the use of unaccounted or ‘black’ money during polls.
  • The Commission has also proposed that exemption of Income Tax should only be extended to political parties that contest elections and win seats in Lok Sabha or assembly polls
  • Parties often accused of manufacturing lists of donors to avoid scrutiny.

Judicial Pronouncements:

Experts argue that electoral reforms in India are driven more by judicial pronouncements. Some of these judicial Pronouncements are discussed below:

  1. In 2002, Supreme Court directed that all the contesting candidates will have to furnish all personal information, including the criminal record at the time of filing nomination papers.
  2. In 2013, SC held that under sec8(4) of RPA, 1951, a legislator shall be disqualified automatically from being a member of the house, if he is convicted and sentenced for 2 or more years of imprisonment in a court of law.
  3. In another judgment in 2013, SC gave the citizens –‘Right to negative vote’ during elections, which came to be known as NOTA (None of the above).
  4. In 2014, SC directed the trial court to dispose off the criminal cases involving MPs, and MLAs/ MLCs within 1 year, after the charges are framed by court of law.

Appointment & Tenure of Commissioners in India:

  • The President appoints Chief Election Commission and other Election Commissioners.
  • They have tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • They enjoy the same status and receive the same salary and emoluments as available to judges of the Supreme Court of India.
  • The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from the office only through the process of impeachment by Parliament.

About Election commission:

  • It operates under Article 324 of the Constitution.
  • It is a permanent constitutional body.
  • Originally the commission consist only a Chief Election Commissioner. Presently it consists of Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
  • The Constitution of India has vested in the Election Commission of India the superintendence direction and control of the entire process of conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State and to the offices of Parliament and Vice-President of India.

Functions of Election Commission:

  • To hold free and fair elections in the Country.
  • Allows symbols to the political parties.
  • Give recognition to the national parities, state parties, and regional parties.
  • It sets limits on poll expenses.
  • Prepare electoral rolls and update voters list time to time.
  • Notification of dates and schedules for the election for filling nominations

Conclusion:

India is the largest Democracy in the World. Elections are the most crucial and integral part of politics in a democratic system of governance. Democracy can function only upon this faith that elections are free and fair and not manipulated and rigged. Therefore, Election Commission plays a major in a democratic country like India. Independent functioning of Election Commission is very much essential in this regard. An electoral reform is necessary for a healthy democracy so the appointment of election commissioner should be based on transparency. The Election Commission should be more vigilant in overcoming its loopholes and limitations.

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