Electoral Reforms In India

Election panel wants to revisit rule on punishment to voters for false mismatch claims


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Section 49MA

Mains level : Electors awareness and associated issues

  • The Election Commission may “revisit” a rule that provides for prosecution of an elector if a complaint of EVM and VVPAT machine malfunction turns out to be false.

Rule 49 MA

  • A voter who claims that the electronic voting machine (EVM) or the paper trail machine did not record his or her vote correctly is allowed to cast a test vote under Rule 49 MA of the Conduct of Election Rules.
  • But, if the voter fails to prove the mismatch, poll officials can initiate action against the complainant under section 177 of the Indian Penal Code.
  • Section 177 applies in the case as it deals with giving false submission.
  • The IPC section states that the person “shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both…”

Why such penalty?

  • The EC has all along maintained that if there is no penal provision, people may make false claims.
  • The penal provision is used as an exception very rarely.
  • The intention of the provision must have been to “discourage” those who want to “disrupt” the electoral process by making such complaints.

 Arguments against 49MA

  • The Rule 49MA of ‘The Conduct of Elections Rules’ is termed unconstitutional as it criminalizes reporting of malfunctioning of EVMs and VVPAT machines.
  • The plea alleged that putting the onus on the elector in cases of arbitrary deviant behaviour of machines used in election process, infringes upon a citizen’s right to freedom of expression under the Constitution.
  • The burden of proof rests on the elector for reporting any deviant behaviour of EVMs and VVPAT machines, who will face criminal charges irrespective of whether the complaint was truthful and honest.
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