Electoral Reforms In India

Electoral reform is welcome, but shouldn’t be selective

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ECI and SECs

Mains level : Paper 2- Electoral reforms

Context

The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill that seeks to link the electoral rolls with the Aadhaar database has been passed by both the Houses of the parliament.

Three electoral reforms

  • A wide range of electoral reform proposals has been pending with the government, several of them for over two decades.
  • The three reforms — common electoral rolls for Vidhan Sabha and panchayat elections, extending the qualifying date for registration of young new voters, and linking of Aadhaar with electoral rolls — taken up by the Union Cabinet on December 15 are, therefore, significant.

[1] Common electoral rolls

  • For years, the ECI has been advocating a common electoral roll for all elections.
  • Currently, separate electoral rolls are maintained for elections to the Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha and local government bodies (panchayats or municipal).
  • Role of ECI and SECs: There are two types of election management bodies in the country — the ECI that conducts the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections and SECs that conduct panchayat and municipal elections.
  • The process for making electoral rolls is laid down in the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960.
  • The SECs have the option of either adopting the electoral rolls created by the ECI or preparing such rolls on their own.
  • Most prefer to use the rolls prepared by the ECI.
  • Some states, however, develop their rolls independently.
  • These are Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Considering that a voter for all three tiers of elected bodies is the same, why is it that she finds her name missing from one of the rolls, mostly the panchayat rolls?
  • This is particularly surprising when the officials responsible for making both these rolls are the same.
  • A common electoral roll is thus a logical solution. 

Benefits of common electoral rolls

  • Tackling stuffing voters: A common experience has been the stuffing of bogus voters in the panchayat/municipal rolls.
  • Corrupt practices are proportionately higher in PRI polls.
  • Avoid the involvement of teachers in the non-teaching work: The process of making electoral rolls is usually done by the schoolteachers.
  • Their involvement in non-teaching work takes its toll.
  • Cost-saving: A common electoral roll will obviate the need for deploying them repeatedly, besides saving enormous costs.

Suggestions for preparation of common electoral rolls

  • Issue joint instructions: The ECI and SECs can issue joint instructions for preparing the common rolls. The roll-making machinery stays the same.
  • Pilot studies may be conducted in random constituencies to identify the discrepancies between two sets of rolls and their reasons.

What are the constitutional and legal changes required?

  • Amendment in Article 243K and 243ZA: The SECs derive their powers to supervise local body elections from Articles 243K and 243ZA of the Constitution.
  • Changes in State laws: All state governments would have to change their electoral laws to adopt ECI electoral rolls for local elections.

[2] Eligibility date of new voters

  • According to Section 14(b) of the Representation of People Act of 1950, only those who have turned 18 on or before January 1 of the year are to be registered.
  • This implies that all those who turn 18 between January 2 and December 31 of a year must wait till the next year.
  • This technicality results in the exclusion of a large section of 18-year-olds.

Suggestion by ECI on eligibility date

  • The ECI had sent a letter to the Law Ministry on November 4, 2013, which recommended the issuing of a voter card to an individual ideally on their 18th birthday, or updating voter rolls every month or quarter.
  • A committee of the Ministry of Law and Justice under Sushil Kumar Modi has proposed quarterly cut-off dates for voter registration — January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1.

[3] Aadhar linking

  • The proposal to link electoral rolls with Aadhaar was first mooted by the ECI in 2015 but work on it had to be stopped when the Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar cannot be used except voluntarily for beneficiary-oriented schemes.
  • Benefits of linking: The linking will help in identifying duplicate voters, something that ECI has been desperately attempting for years using various “de-duplication” software with limited success.

Consider the question “What are the concerns with linking of Aadhar and electoral rolls? Suggest the way forward.”

Conclusion

Any progress in addressing the vexed issue of electoral reform — even in a piecemeal manner — is welcome. The time has, however, come for the government to consider the 40-plus pending proposals, instead of selectively going for some reforms.

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