Electoral Reforms In India

Aug, 19, 2019

Explained: Delimitation of Constituencies

News

Background

  • Since the bifurcation of J&K State into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh, delimitation of their electoral constituencies has been inevitable.
  • While the government has not formally notified the Election Commission yet, the EC has held “internal discussions” on the J&K Reorganization Act, 2019, particularly its provisions on delimitation.

What is Delimitation? Why is it needed?

  • Delimitation is the act of redrawing boundaries of Lok Sabha and state Assembly seats to represent changes in population.
  • In this process, the number of seats allocated to different states in Lok Sabha and the total number seats in a Legislative Assembly may also change.
  • The main objective of delimitation is to provide equal representation to equal segments of a population.
  • It also aims at a fair division of geographical areas so that one political party doesn’t have an advantage over others in an election.

Legal status

  • Delimitation is carried out by an independent Delimitation Commission (DC).
  • The Constitution mandates that its orders are final and cannot be questioned before any court as it would hold up an election indefinitely.

How is delimitation carried out?

  • Under Article 82, the Parliament enacts a Delimitation Act after every Census.
  • Once the Act is in force, the Union government sets up a DC made up of a retired Supreme Court judge, the Chief Election Commissioner and the respective State Election Commissioners.
  • The Commission is supposed to determine the number and boundaries of constituencies in a way that the population of all seats, so far as practicable, is the same.
  • The Commission is also tasked with identifying seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; these are where their population is relatively large.
  • All this is done on the basis of the latest Census and, in case of difference of opinion among members of the Commission, the opinion of the majority prevails.

Implementation

  • The draft proposals of the DC are published in the Gazette of India, official gazettes of the states concerned and at least two vernacular papers for public feedback.
  • The Commission also holds public sittings.
  • After hearing the public, it considers objections and suggestions, received in writing or orally during public sittings, and carries out changes, if any, in the draft proposal.
  • The final order is published in the Gazette of India and the State Gazette and comes into force on a date specified by the President.

How often has delimitation been done in the past?

  • The first delimitation exercise in 1950-51 was carried out by the President (with the help of the Election Commission).
  • The Constitution at that time was silent on who should undertake the division of states into Lok Sabha seats.
  • This delimitation was temporary as the Constitution mandated redrawing of boundaries after every Census. Hence, another delimitation was due after the 1951 Census.

Why more independence to DC?

  • Pointing out that the first delimitation had left many political parties and individuals unhappy, the EC advised the government that all future exercises should be carried out by an independent commission.
  • This suggestion was accepted and the DC Act was enacted in 1952.
  • DCs have been set up four times — 1952, 1963, 1973 and 2002 under the Acts of 1952, 1962, 1972 and 2002.
  • There was no delimitation after the 1981 and 1991 Censuses.

Why was there no delimitation then?

  • The Constitution mandates that the number of Lok Sabha seats allotted to a state would be such that the ratio between that number and the population of the state is, as far as practicable, the same for all states.
  • Although unintended, this provision implied that states that took little interest in population control could end up with a greater number of seats in Parliament.
  • The southern states that promoted family planning faced the possibility of having their seats reduced.
  • To allay these fears, the Constitution was amended during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule in 1976 to suspend delimitation until 2001.
  • Despite the embargo, there were a few occasions that called for readjustment in the number of Parliament and Assembly seats allocated to a state.
  • These include statehood attained by Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram in 1986, the creation of a Legislative Assembly for the National Capital Territory of Delhi, and creation of new states such as Uttarakhand.

Why postponed till 2026?

  • Although the freeze on the number of seats in Lok Sabha and Assemblies should have been lifted after the 2001 Census, another amendment postponed this until 2026.
  • This was justified on the ground that a uniform population growth rate would be achieved throughout the country by 2026.
  • So, the last delimitation exercise — started in July 2002 and completed on May 31, 2008 — was based on the 2001 Census and only readjusted boundaries of existing Lok Sabha and Assembly seats and reworked the number of reserved seats.

Back2Basics

History of Delimitation in J&K

  • Delimitation of J&K’s Lok Sabha seats is governed by the Indian Constitution, but delimitation of its Assembly seats (until special status was abrogated recently) was governed separately by its Constitution and J&K Representation of the People Act, 1957.
  • As far as delimitation of Lok Sabha seats is concerned, the last DC of 2002 was not entrusted with this task. Hence, J&K parliamentary seats remain as delimited on the basis of the 1971 Census.
  • As for Assembly seats, although the delimitation provisions of the J&K Constitution and the J&K RP Act, 1957, are similar to those of the Indian Constitution and Delimitation Acts.
  • They mandate a separate DC for J&K. In actual practice, the same central DC set up for other states was adopted by J&K in 1963 and 1973.
  • While the amendment of 1976 to the Indian Constitution suspended delimitation in the rest of the country till 2001, no corresponding amendment was made to the J&K Constitution.
  • Hence, unlike the rest of the country, the Assembly seats of J&K were delimited based on the 1981 Census, which formed the basis of the state elections in 1996.
  • There was no census in the state in 1991 and no DC was set up by the state government after the 2001 Census as the J&K Assembly passed a law putting a freeze on fresh delimitation until 2026.
Jul, 27, 2019

Explained: Compulsory voting and associated issues


News

  • The Compulsory Voting Bill, 2019, was introduced by a ruling party MP in Lok Sabha.
  • The Law Commission, in its March 2015 report on electoral reforms, had opposed the idea of compulsory voting, saying it was not practical to implement it.

Compulsory voting

  • Compulsory voting is an effect of laws which require eligible citizens to register and vote in elections, and may impose penalties on those who fail to do so.
  • In practice, this appears to produce governments with more stability, legitimacy and a genuine mandate to govern.
  • This in turn benefits all individuals even if an individual voter’s preferred candidate or party is not elected to power.

Why need it?

  • Voting is often equated in kind to similar civil responsibilities such as taxation.
  • The idea of a compulsory voting result in a higher degree of political legitimacy is based on higher voter turnout.
  • Other perceived advantages to compulsory voting are the stimulation of broader interest politics, as a sort of civil education and political stimulation, which creates a better informed population.

Argument against

  • Voting is a civic right in India rather than a civic duty.
  • Legal scholars in the US argue that compulsory voting is essentially a compelled speech act, which violates freedom of speech because the freedom to speak necessarily includes the freedom not to speak.
  • The costs of voting may normally exceed the expected benefits for weaker sections such as migrant workers.

Is India is not ready for 100 per cent voting?

  • The government relies on the 255th Law Commission Report, which says “electoral right” of the voter includes the right to “vote or refrain from voting at an election.”
  • The Representation of People Act, 1951 – the law that governs elections – too talks of “right to vote rather than a duty to vote”.
  • The idea of compulsory voting in India has been rejected time and again on the grounds of practical difficulties.
  • However, the issue of compulsory voting is bigger than being just a legal issue. The idea has political ramifications too.

Encouraging democratic dissent

  • Political scientists say democracies need to accommodate dissent and diversity of views.
  • This includes the option of disengagement, rights to abstain from participating; if people believe voting is erroneous, undesirable, unnecessary or immoral.

What evidences suggest?

  • It has often been argued that compulsory voting will improve political participation.
  • But empirical evidence and experience of countries with compulsory voting suggest otherwise.
  • The Australian experience with compulsory voting has revealed the notion of “donkey voting” – where when voters were forced to vote – they voted for the candidate whose name was on the top of the candidates’ list.

Conclusion

  • It is evident that increased participation does not necessarily guarantee quality participation or does not make a democracy with compulsory voting more vibrant.
  • There is also a real fear that compulsory voting may lead to more vote buying by candidates especially in a country like India, where we have seen instances of – cash-for-vote scams.
  • Making voting compulsory also kills the option of not voting as a protest.
  • Nobody disputes the benefits of higher and informed voter turn-out for democracy, but instead of taking the compulsory route for wider participation of people in the election process – technology can be harnessed to achieve this end.
Jul, 22, 2019

Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS)

News

  • Among the many milestones recorded by Election Commission of India during the recently concluded Lok Sabha Election 2019, Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) is one of its kind.

About ETPBS

  • It is a fully secured system, having two security layers.
  • Secrecy of voting is maintained through the use of OTP and PIN and no duplication of casted ETPB is possible due to the unique QR Code in the portal https://www.etpbs.in.
  • Through this system the service voters cast their vote on an electronically received postal ballot, from anywhere outside their constituency, thus reducing the chances of losing the voting opportunity.
  • The purpose of the online system was to create convenient and easy-to-use online system for Defense Personnel to become Service Voters.
  • With the motto of “no voter to be left behind”, Election Commission of India’s ETPBS has empowered and ensured all eligible service electors with their constitutional power to vote while performing their duty for the nation.

Who is a Service Voter?

According to the provisions of sub-section (8) of Section 20 of RP Act, 1950, Service Voters are:

  • Those serving in the Armed Forces of the Union.
  • Those serving in a Force to which the Army Act 1950 applies (Assam rifles, CRPF, BSF, ITBP, SSB, NSG, GREF in BRO (Border Road organisation), CISF etc.
  • Member of an Armed Police Force of a State, serving outside that state.
  • Government officials deployed in Embassies outside the country.

Impact of the ETBPS

  • Compared to 13,27,627 number of registered Service Electors of last General Election in 2014, a record highest number of 18,02,646 were enrolled as Service Electors in 2019.
Jul, 13, 2019

Explained: Anti-Defection Law

News

  • Cases of defection have been reportedly rising from various states like Goa, Karnataka, Telangana etc.

Anti-defection law in India

  • For a long time, the Indian political scene was clouded by political defections by members of the legislature. This situation brought about greater instability in the political system.
  • The infamous “Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram” slogan was coined against the background of continuous defections by the legislators.
  • Legislators used to change parties frequently, bringing about chaos in the legislatures as governments fell.
  • In sum, they often brought about political instability. This caused serious concerns to the right thinking political leaders of the country.
  • The ‘anti-defection law’ was passed through an Act of Parliament in 1985 by the government under Rajiv Gandhi.
  • Passed as the 52nd Amendment Act, it added the law as the 10th Schedule of the Constitution.

What all does the Law cover?

  • It states that members who do the following will lose their membership any House (which could be at the Centre or in a State) if they:
  1. Voluntary resign from their political party from which they have been elected
  2. Vote against the direction of their political party (in legislature)
  3. Does not vote/abstain from voting (in legislature) despite having a direction to vote from their party.
  • and 3. do not apply if the member has prior permission from his/her party or the party condones the member’s action within 15 days of the voting.
  • Members independent of any political party will lose their membership if they join one after their election to legislature.
  • Nominated members will lose their membership if they join a party within 6 months of their nomination to legislature.

Certain Exceptions to the Law

  • The law provides exceptions from being disqualified as a member of legislature on the following grounds:
  1. When political parties merge with each other entirely
  2. When a political party splits into other parties, subject to not less than a third of the members splitting
  3. When two-thirds (or more) of members belonging to a party join another party without both their parties explicitly merging
  • The Speaker or the Chairman of the concerned Houses (as applicable) makes decisions on defection matters.
  • If the Chairman or the Speaker defects, the decisions shall be made by a member elected by the House.

Has the law changed since inception, and if so, how?

  • Yes, the law was amended in 2003.
  • When it was enacted first, there was a provision under which if there occurs a split in the original political party and as a result of which one-third of the legislators of that party forms a separate group, they shall not be disqualified.
  • This provision resulted in large scale defections and the lawmakers were convinced that the provision of a split in the party was being misused. Therefore, they decided to delete this provision.
  • Now, the only provision which can be invoked for protection from disqualification is the provision relating to the merger, which is provided in Paragraph 4 of the 10th Schedule.

Is the law, as it stands now, open to interpretation?

  • The first ground for disqualifying a legislator for defecting from a party is his voluntarily giving up the membership of his party.
  • This term “voluntarily giving up the membership of his party” is susceptible to interpretation.
  • As has been explained earlier, voluntarily giving up the membership is not the same as resigning from a party.
  • The Supreme Court has clarified this point by saying that the presiding officer, who acts as a tribunal, has to draw a reasonable inference from the conduct of the legislator.

How far has the law succeeded in achieving its goal?

  • The law certainly has been able to curb the evil of defection to a great extent.
  • But, of late, a very alarming trend of legislators defecting in groups to another party in search of greener pastures is visible.
  • The recent examples of defection in state Assemblies and even in Rajya Sabha bear this out.
  • This only shows that the law needs a relook in order to plug the loopholes if any.

Conclusion

  • This law has served the interest of the society.
  • Political instability caused by frequent and unholy change of allegiance on the part of the legislators of our country has been contained to a very great extent.
  • That is a story of success of one of the most important legislation that the Indian Parliament has enacted.
Jul, 12, 2019

[op-ed of the day] A welcome debate on electoral reforms

Note- Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. Aspirants should try to cover at least this editorial on a daily basis to have command over most important issues in news. It will help in enhancing and enriching the content in mains answers. Please do not miss at any cost.

CONTEXT

 A short-duration discussion in the Rajya Sabha on electoral reforms occured. It was initiated by Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Derek O’Brien, with the backing of as many as 14 Opposition parties.

Dimensions of reforms

  • The TMC MP touched on six major themes —
  • Appointment system for Election Commissioners and Chief Election Commissioner (CEC);
  • Money power;
  • Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs);
  • The idea of simultaneous elections;
  • The role social media;
  • And lastly, the use of government data and surrogate advertisements to target certain sections of voters.

1.Appointment process

  • On the issue of appointments of Election Commissioners, Mr. O’Brien quoted B.R. Ambedkar’s statement to the Constituent Assembly that “the tenure can’t be made a fixed and secure tenure if there is no provision in the Constitution to prevent a fool or a naive or a person who is likely to be under the thumb of the executive.”

Collegium system- All parties demanded the introduction of a collegium system.

2.Money power  –

As regards the chronic problem of the crippling influence of money power, Mr. O’Brien spoke about various reports and documents — a 1962 private member’s Bill by Atal Bihari Vajpayee; the Goswami committee report on electoral reforms (1990); and the Indrajit Gupta committee report on state funding of elections (1998).

Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) – Congress MP Kapil Sibal, citing an independent think tank report on poll expenditure released in June, discussed at length the regressive impact of amending the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) and removing the 7.5% cap on corporate donations.

3.Funding of elections –

  • Congress MP termed electoral bonds “a farce” and gave a proposal for state funding (of political parties) based on either a National Electoral Fund or the number of votes obtained by the respective parties.
  • He also proposed crowdfunding in the form of small donations.
  • He said that the current expenditure cap on candidates is unrealistic and should either be raised or removed to encourage transparency.

4.EVM –

  • The old issue of returning to ballot papers was raised by several parties.
  • The TMC said that “when technology doesn’t guarantee perfection, you have to question technology.”
  • The BJD said that to strengthen public faith in Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trails, five machines should be counted right in the beginning. The BSP added that postal ballots should be scanned before counting so as to increase transparency.

5.On simultaneous elections

  • Many BJP MPs highlighted issues linked to electoral fatigue, expenditure and governance and also reports of the Law Commission and NITI Aayog to push for simultaneous elections.
  • But the TMC said that the solution lies in consulting constitutional experts and publishing a white paper for more deliberation.

6.Internal democracy

  • Internal democracy within political parties was also mentioned by a couple of speakers.
  • The BJD suggested that an independent regulator should be mandated to supervise and ensure inner-party democracy.

7.Wider representations

  • For improving the representativeness of elections, the demand for proportional representation system was put forth by the DMK, the CPI and the CPI (M).
  • The DMK cited the example of the BSP’s performance in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when the party got a vote share of nearly 20% in Uttar Pradesh but zero seats.
  • A number of MPs argued for a mixed system, where there was a provision for both First Past the Post and Proportional Representation systems.

8.Common electoral roll

  • The important issue of the “fidelity of electoral rolls” was raised by the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP).
  • The idea of a common electoral roll for all the three tiers of democracy was supported by the BJP and the SP.

Reforms in a streamlined manner

  •  Reducing the number of phases in elections by raising more security forces.
  • Depoliticisation of constitutional appointments by appointing Commissioners through a broad-based collegium;
  • State funding of political parties by means of a National Electoral Fund or on the basis of the number of votes obtained;
  • Capping the expenditure of political parties;
  • Giving the Election Commission of India (ECI) powers to de-register recalcitrant political parties;
  • Inclusion of proportional representation system;
  • Revisiting the Information Technology Act, to strengthen social media regulations.

Conclusion

  • The governments should also rise above their obsession with immediate electoral gains and think of long-term national interests.
  • The TMC MP was right in saying that Parliament must not only urgently “debate and deliberate but also legislate” on electoral reforms.
  • The time has come to find and enact concrete solutions in the national interest.
  • Having heard a number of practical and constructive proposals raised in the Rajya Sabha last week, I remain hopeful that Parliament will take it upon itself to enable the world’s largest democracy to become the world’s greatest.
Jun, 26, 2019

Explained: Constructive Vote of No-confidence

News

  • In the debate over simultaneous elections, one question being raised is what happens to the common cycle if any one of these simultaneously elected legislatures is brought down by a no-confidence motion.
  • The ruling govt. in Odisha where Assembly and general elections already coincide has proposed a solution, a provision what is followed in Germany.

Constructive Vote of No-confidence

  • Article 67 [Vote of no confidence] of Basic Law in Germany (Constitution of Germany) sets conditions for moving a no-confidence motion against the Chancellor.
  • The Bundestag (German parliament) may express its lack of confidence in the Federal Chancellor only by electing a successor by the vote of a majority of its members and requesting the Federal President to dismiss the Chancellor.
  • The President must comply with the request and appoint the person elected.
  • Article 68 [Vote of confidence] states that if a motion of the Chancellor for a vote of confidence is not supported by a majority of members, the President, upon the proposal of the Chancellor, may dissolve the Bundestag within 21 days.
  • The right of dissolution shall lapse as soon as the Bundestag elects another Chancellor by a majority vote.

Its meaning

  • The provision allows Parliament to withdraw confidence from a head of government only if there is a majority in favour for a prospective successor.
  • This narrows down the scope of the Opposition to overthrow the government at will and necessitate elections before the government ends its term.
  • The underlying premise is that there is a fixed five-year-tenure (for the House) and that there will be a government no matter what.
  • The government will be presumed to have a majority unless another grouping is in a position to demonstrate that they have greater numbers.
  • This is based on a concept called “constructive vote of no-confidence”, also recommended by the Law Commission of India in a 2018 draft report.
Jun, 20, 2019

[op-ed snap] The next structural change’

CONTEXT

The renewed pitch for “One Nation One Election” if understood in terms of process improvement, or reforms, makes eminent sense.

Harmful Impact of year-round election cycles

1.Concerns with Rajya Sabha

  • First, the Rajya Sabha has simply stopped reflecting the current will of the people.
  • No, this is not an argument to assert that Rajya Sabha should reflect the reality of the Lok Sabha mandate.
  • But is it anybody’s case that the Rajya Sabha members should not reflect the current will of their respective state’s mandate?

Case Study of UP

Eleven Rajya Sabha members were elected from Uttar Pradesh in June 2016: Seven of them were from the SP, two from the BSP and just one each from the BJP and Congress. These results reflected the reality of the then state assembly of UP. These seats will be up for re-election in June 2022. In between, the people of the state decisively voted in favour of the BJP in March 2017. The UP assembly is due for elections in February-March 2022. This would mean that the assembly elected in 2017 would have had zero say in its entire tenure on these 11 seats.

2. confrontationist Attitude between the state and centre

  • Second, assembly elections two years either side of Parliamentary elections, in states ruled by a different party than that at the Centre, have led to an almost continuous confrontationist attitude, severely compromising federal cooperation and governance delivery.
  • Examples – Take the case of West Bengal. Before the 2019 general elections, Ayushman Bharat was suspended, PM Kisan was not implemented, CBI jurisdiction was impeded.

3.  Delay in decision making

  • Third, although governments are nominally elected for five years, the frequent imposition of the Model Code suspends decision making and implementation every few months.
  • This has squeezed out space for ideas that may be vital but have no immediate electoral salience.

4. Electoral Swaying by short term promises

Fourth, the competitive nature of electoral democracy inevitably means choosing to make the easiest promise. Routed in the general elections and fearing similar result six months later, who would want to invest time in arduous efforts to effect real, long-term changes?

5. No availability of evaluation time

Fifth, the ubiquitous nature of social media has meant that almost everybody is now not just an informed political animal but a participating political animal. Once you have taken a position on a political issue, then the very nature of the beast will compel you to keep on participating with your political lens.

Conclusion

There have been various models proposed for implementing the idea of simultaneous elections. They will surely be debated and a plausible method to reconcile the practicalities be evolved. It took us about a decade to agree to GST. It was a one-time adjustment at the national and state level and we have already started seeing the benefits of this structural change. “One Nation One Election” is also about one-time structural change. First align various cycles and then evolve a structure, by consensus, which can serve us for the decades to come. It is an idea whose time has come.

Jun, 11, 2019

Recognizing a National Party

News

  • Recently a political party viz. National People’s Party (NPP) in Meghalaya got recognition as a “national party”.
  • The NPP is the eighth party to get that recognition — after INC, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI, CPI(M) and TMC — and the first from the Northeast.

Recognizing a National Party

  • 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.
  • A party has to satisfy any one of a number of these conditions.

For recognition as a NATIONAL PARTY, the conditions specified are:

  1. a 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. 2% of all Lok Sabha seats in the last such election, with MPs elected from at least three states; or
  3. recognition as a state party in at least four states.

For recognition as a STATE PARTY, any one of five conditions needs to be satisfied:

  1. two seats plus a 6% vote share in the last Assembly election in that state; or
  2. one seat plus a 6% vote share in the last Lok Sabha election from that state; or
  3. 3% of the total Assembly seats or 3 seats, whichever is more; or
  4. one of every 25 Lok Sabha seats (or an equivalent fraction) from a state; or
  5. an 8% state-wide vote share in either the last Lok Sabha or the last Assembly polls.

Benefits of such recognition

  • The biggest advantage of being recognized is getting the reserved symbol. A party recognized as a state party gets a reserved symbol within the state.
  • For National Parties, the reserved symbol can be used across the country by its contesting candidates. This is one the biggest advantages since symbol plays a very important role in elections.
  • There are also other advantages to the recognized parties like subsidized land for party offices, free air time on Doordarshan & All India Radio, supply of electoral roll copies free of cost during elections etc.

Losing the recognition

  • Once recognised as a national or a state party, a political party retains that status irrespective of its performance in the next elections.
  • It loses the given status only if it fails to fulfil any of the conditions for two successive Assembly and two successive Lok Sabha elections.
Jun, 07, 2019

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

News

  • 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.
Jun, 06, 2019

Explained: Dual Mandate in India

News

  • The first session of the 17th Lok Sabha will commence very soon.
  • Some of MPs who won in the elections were elected from more than one constituency; some were already members of either Rajya Sabha or the legislature of a state.
  • These MPs are obligated vacate one of their seats.

Why vacate the seat?

  • Under section 33 of the RPA, 1951, a person is allowed to contest polls, whether a general election, more than one by-elections or biennial elections, from a maximum of two seats.
  • Before this law, candidates could run in any number of constituencies.
  • If candidates win both seats, they must vacate one within 10 days, triggering a by-election, as stated under section 70 of the Act.
  • Under the Constitution, an individual cannot simultaneously be a member of either Houses of Parliament (or a state legislature), or both Parliament and a state legislature, or represent more than one seat in a House.

Procedures and timelines for effect

I. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha

Article 101(1) of the Constitution read with Section 68(1) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951says:

  • If a person is elected simultaneously to both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, and if he has not yet taken his seat in either House, he can choose, within 10 days from the later of the dates on which he is chosen to those Houses, of which he would like to be a member.
  • The member must intimate his choice in writing to the Secretary to the ECI within the 10-day window, failing which his seat in Rajya Sabha will fall vacant at the end of this period [Sec 68(2), RPA 1951].
  • The choice, once intimated, is final. [Sec 68(3), RPA, 1951]
  • No such option is, however, available to a person who is already a member of one House and has contested the election for membership of the other House.
  • So, if a sitting Rajya Sabha member contests and wins a Lok Sabha election, his seat in the Upper House becomes automatically vacant on the date he is declared elected to Lok Sabha.
  • The same applies to a Lok Sabha member who contests an election to Rajya Sabha. [Sec 69 read with Sec 67A, RPA 1951]

II. Elected on two Lok Sabha seats

  • There is no one in this category in the new Lok Sabha. Under Sec 33(7) of RPA, 1951, an individual can contest from two parliamentary constituencies.
  • But, if elected from both, he has to resign one seat within 14 days of the declaration of the result, failing which both his seats shall fall vacant. [Sec 70, RPA, 1951 read with Rule 91 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961]

III. State Assembly and Lok Sabha

  • Article 101(2) of the Constitution along with Rule 2 of the Prohibition of Simultaneous Membership Rules, 1950, made by the President under this Article says:
  • Members of state legislatures who have been elected to Lok Sabha must resign their seats within 14 days “from the date of publication in the Gazette of India or in the Official Gazette of the State, whichever is later.
  • Failing this their seats in Lok Sabha shall automatically fall vacant.

*** What is ‘Due Constitution’ notification by ECI?

  • Sec 67 of the RPA, 1951, says that “the returning officer shall report the (election) result to the appropriate authority and the Election Commission.
  • The authority shall cause to publish in the Official Gazette the declarations containing the names of the elected candidates.
  • Sec 73 of the Act provides that the ECI shall publish in the gazette the names of all elected members in a notification, called ‘Due Constitution’ notification, whereafter Lok Sabha shall be deemed to be duly constituted.
May, 27, 2019

[op-ed snap] Left adrift

CONTEXT

The communists once wielded influence out of proportion with their numbers. Now, they are in retreat on both fronts.

Background

  • The communist parties have plumbed the nadir in the general elections, with just five seats in the Lok Sabha — four in Tamil Nadu, one in Kerala and absolutely none in West Bengal and Tripura, their former strongholds in the east.
  • Apart from the numbers, the influence that they had wielded in national affairs and policymaking has also dwindled to nothing.
  • Once upon a time, they could claim to provide the moral armature of Manmohan Singh’s government, highlighting welfare and deploying the work of academics loyal to the cause for leverage in steering policy.

Start of decline

  • That was before they let their anti-Americanism get the better of their political sense and withdrew support to the government over the Indo-US nuclear deal, a decision they were unable to explain to the electorate.
  • That misadventure alone would have sapped the energy of the cadre in less committed parties, but it was not the first.
  • In 1996, to the dismay of the troops, the Politburo had prevented Jyoti Basu from becoming prime minister of the United Front government.
  • And in 2008, Somnath Chatterjee was expelled by the CPM for being more loyal to Parliament than to his party.

Limited to academia

  • Ever since, the left has been almost shouldered off the electoral field and had retreated to the groves of academe.
  • It ventured out of that safe haven this year to do combat in Begusarai, and lost one of the most closely watched contests.
  • This would only embolden the BJP to proceed with its declared project to clear universities of left influence.
  • Of course, success in this initiative would also deprive it of a pet peeve, that it had been excluded from academia and the writing of history by left-wing intellectuals.
  • But that would be a small price to pay, now that it has demonstrated its electoral prowess beyond doubt.

Other reasons for the decline

1. Loss of class notions

The left movement has lost relevance because it is overtaken and outclassed. Its politics is based on the notion of class, whose contours have changed over time.

2. Caste is not class –

Historically, it was also hamstrung by its decision to interpret caste through the lens of class. It doesn’t really matter any more, because Hindu pride may have, in many ways, trumped caste, too, in this election.

Conclusion

The eclipse of the left may be a historical necessity, but which party is capable of filling the moral vacuum it will leave behind – its commitment to welfare, and to the centrality of the poorest? That question lingers on.

 

May, 25, 2019

[op-ed snap] Disclosing dissent: on EC's decision to not record split opinions

CONTEXT

The rejection of the demand of one of the Election Commissioners that dissenting opinions be recorded in the orders passed by the three-member Election Commission on complaints of violations of the Model Code of Conduct may be technically and legally right. However, there was indeed a strong case for acceding to the demand of Ashok Lavasa at least in regard to complaints against high functionaries such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Events leading to dissent

  • The EC has been rightly widely criticised for giving a series of ‘clean chits’ to the PM, despite some questionable remarks that appeared to solicit votes in the name of the armed forces.
  • Added to the widespread unease 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.
  • After all, the public is aware of the allegedly offending actions and remarks, and is entitled to be informed if the decision was not unanimous.
  • In this hotly contested election, one in which the level of discourse was abysmally low, the onus on the poll panel to maintain a level-playing field and enforce the election code was quite high.
  • Making public a dissent in the final order would have deepened the popular understanding of the issues in play.

Legal Provisions

  • The law requires the multi-member EC to transact business unanimously as far as possible — and where there is a difference of opinion, by majority.
  • Therefore, there is nothing wrong if decisions are made by a 2:1 ratio.
  • The apparent justification for excluding any dissent from the final order, but merely recording it in the file, is that the practice of including dissent is limited to quasi-judicial matters such as allotment of symbols
  • A more appropriate distinction would be between decisions that require reasoning — absolving the Prime Minister of an election code violation surely ought to be one — and administrative matters that need to be resolved with dispatch.
  • If members have specific reasons for deciding for or against a particular course of action, there would surely be no harm in spelling out their respective positions.

Conclusion

At a time when the institution’s reputation is being undermined by sustained criticism, the EC should not shy away from making public any difference of opinion within. 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.

May, 24, 2019

[op-ed snap] When the big guys fight

CONTEXT

ON the eve of counting, the Opposition demonstrated its mistrust of the electoral process yet again.

Mistrust of EVMs

  • In a memorandum, several top leaders urged the Election Commission (EC) to match VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) slips with EVMs in five polling stations per Assembly segment before going ahead with the counting of votes.
  • Their argument: verifying VVPATs beforehand would give poll officers a chance to prevent discrepancies.
  • They wanted 100 per cent matching in all polling booths of an Assembly constituency if even one discrepancy was reported during sample checks. However, the EC decided to stick to the procedure of counting first and conducting VVPAT verification later.

Supreme Court’s Judgement

  • A fortnight ago, the Supreme Court had rejected a review petition by 21 leaders of Opposition parties demanding that the random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs should be raised to at least 25 per cent as against the present 2 per cent.
  • But the apex court refused to modify its April 8 order directing the EC to increase the number for random tallying from one to five polling booths per Assembly segment in the parliamentary polls.
  • This fair arrangement should have been acceptable to all, but Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu and others have continued to fuel suspicion on the pretext of seeking greater transparency and confidence-building in the EVM system.

Conclusion

  • It’s ironical that the Opposition parties have submitted themselves to the humongous poll exercise over the past month and a half but at the same time missed no opportunity to question its reliability.
  • They have also repeatedly cast aspersions on the functioning of the EC.
  • Indeed, the poll conductor has done itself no favour by first delaying action on complaints against PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah and then, after being pulled up by the Supreme Court, disposing of the petitions with undue haste.
  • The rapid-fire clean chits were in stark contrast to the assertiveness shown by TN Seshan and JM Lyngdoh when they were at the helm.
  • Warts and all, the EC should have the last word on the conduct of the elections.
May, 23, 2019

[op-ed snap] Electoral bribery and the best way to stop it

CONTEXT

According to Election Commission (EC) data compiled over the span of this year’s election season, seizures of illicit intoxicants, cash and gold have been vastly higher than before.

Background

  • Attempts to bribe voters, it would seem, have not only been part and parcel of the fiesta, but the offerings being dangled have been juicier. The value of all the bottles of liquor, packets of narcotics, wads of currency and biscuits of shiny metal in electoral service recovered by the authorities is estimated at3,458.7 crore, several times what was seized during the general elections of 2014.
  • Cash seizures were up 181.3 %, while alcohol volumes have risen 15.9% and narcotic quantities have shot up 355.6% in five years.
  • The drugs alone were worth more than all the cash that was seized this year.
  • A closer examination of this year’s data reveals that five states accounted for the bulk of all seizures.
  • Tamil Nadu stands out with a share of 27.5% of the total by value, followed by Gujarat with about 16%, Delhi with 12.3%, Punjab with 8.2% and Andhra Pradesh with 6.6%.

Analysis of electoral bribery

  • Levels of political competition have been consistently high across the country, for example, and there is no reason to suppose that one state’s electorate would have been more amenable to such bribery than another’s. Still, some variations are clear.
  • In Gujarat, Punjab and Delhi, drugs were the most valuable part of the haul; in Tamil Nadu, gold and silver were favoured as a ballot lure; and in Andhra Pradesh, currency notes were apparently expected to take on some of the canvassing burden.

Puzzling Conclusion –

  • The data merely relates to seizures, and there is no way of knowing whether their higher rates reflect greater use of these devious methods or better vigilance by the authorities.
  • The same goes for the higher all-India figure of seizures this year. It could simply be that the EC, police and other departments have done a better job.
  • The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs had specifically directed tax officials to share information with other government agencies on a real-time basis so that raids could be carried out.
  • As with all such matters, partisan action is easy to suspect.
  • Like demonetization—which has not stopped cash from being used like poll confetti—the axe of the authorities may have fallen harder on some than on others.

Way Forward

  • But the point is that offering people material inducements for their votes is against the law.
  • Such bribery is a blight on our democracy and perverts the very purpose of elections.
  • To rid ourselves of the problem, however, we cannot rely on the conscience of politicians.
  • It’s ultimately for voters to send them a clear signal that their votes cannot be bought. Let’s hope they already have.
May, 20, 2019

Explained: Exit Polls

News

  • With the long and vitriolic-filled General Elections, spanning over seven phases, coming to a close, the embargo on the broadcast of exit polls was lifted.

Exit Polls in India

  • An election exit poll is a poll of voters taken soon after a voter walks out after casting his or her vote.
  • It is considered as an indicator to which party forms the government.
  • Unlike an opinion poll, which asks for whom the voter plans to vote, an exit poll asks for whom the voter actually voted.
  • Exit polls are conducted by a number of organisations.
  • This method is not new; it began back in 1957 during the second Lok Sabha elections when the Indian Institute of Public Opinion conducted a poll.

Regulating exit polls

  • Seeking an amendment to the RP Act to provide for a ban on both exit and opinion polls during a period specified by the EC in 2004 had approached the Law Ministry along with the endorsement of six national parties and 18 state parties.
  • The recommendation was accepted in part, and in February 2010, restrictions were imposed only on exit polls through the introduction of Section 126(A) in the Act.
  • The EC advises electronic and print media not to publish or publicise any article or programme related to the dissemination of results of exit polls during the prohibited period.

What does ECI advisory say about rules for predicting results?

  • The ECI is of the view that prediction of results of elections in any form or manner by way of predictions etc by astrologers, political analysts or by any persons during the prohibited period is violation of the spirit of Section 126A (of the RP Act).
  • It aims to prevent the electors of constituencies still going to polls from being influenced in their voting by such predictions about the prospects of the various political parties.
  • ECI, in exercise of the powers under sub-section (1) of Section 126A of the RP Act, 1951 has notifies the period during which conducting any exit poll is prohibited

Issue with exit polls

  • Both exit and opinion polls can be controversial if the agency conducting them is perceived to be biased.
  • As per critics, the projections of these surveys can be influenced by the choice, wording and timing of the questions, and by the nature of the sample drawn.
  • Political parties often allege that many opinion and exit polls are motivated and sponsored by their rivals.
  • They could have a distorting effect on the choices voters make in a protracted election, rather than simply reflecting public sentiment or views.
May, 17, 2019

Explained: Article 324 and the special role of Election Commission

News

Background

  • The Election Commission of India passed an unprecedented order ending the campaign in West Bengal at 10 pm the following day instead of 5 pm on May 17 as was notified earlier, and is the norm.
  • It also removed the state’s Home Secretary, and a senior police officer.
  • The decisions were taken under Article 324 of the Constitution, in response to street violence in Kolkata between cadres of two political parties.

ECI’s freedom, responsibility

  • Article 324 vests “in an Election Commission” the “superintendence, direction and control of elections”. Parliament enacted The RP Act of 1950 and 1951 to define and enlarge the powers of the Commission.
  • Ambedkar introduced the Article 324 on June 15, 1949, saying the whole election machinery should be in the hands of a Central EC, which alone would be entitled to issue directives to returning officers, polling officers and others.
  • There are just five Articles in Part XV (Elections) of the Constitution.
  • The Constituent Assembly was concerned mainly with ensuring the independence of the Election Commission.

Art. 324 occupies the vacuum:

Mohinder Singh Gill vs The CEC, New Delhi and Others (1977)

  • The 1977 Supreme Court judgement held that Article 324 “operates in areas left unoccupied by legislation and the words ‘superintendence, direction and control’ as well as ‘conduct of all elections’ are the broadest terms”.
  • The Constitution has not defined these terms.
  • Article 324 is a plenary provision vesting the whole responsibility for national and State elections in the ECI and therefore, the necessary powers to discharge that function.
  • The framers of the Constitution, a/c to the court, had left scope for exercise of residuary power by the Commission, in its own right, as a creature of the Constitution, in the infinite variety of situations.

Surprise situations

  • The court observed that “legislators are not prophets but pragmatists”, and that the “comprehensive provision in Art. 324 (is) to take care of surprise situations.
  • It underlined that “that power itself has to be exercised, not mindlessly nor mala fide, nor arbitrarily nor with partiality but in keeping with the guidelines of the rule of law and not stultifying the Presidential notification nor existing legislation.

ECI’s role in West Bengal

  • The RP Amendment Act, 1988 (Act 1 of 1989) introduced Section 28A in the RP Act of 1951, which said that all officers deployed for the conduct of an election shall be deemed to be on deputation to the EC.
  • This should be from the notification of the election to the declaration of the results, and such officers shall, during that period, be subject to the control, superintendence and discipline of the EC.
  • The ECI took action against officers for failing in their duties — nothing more was required, except the ordering of a probe.
May, 08, 2019

Anti Defection Law

News

  • The Supreme Court has stayed proceedings initiated by Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker for disqualification of some MLAs for “anti-party activities”.

Anti Defection Law

  • The anti-defection law was passed by parliament in 1985.
  • The 52nd amendment to the Constitution added the Tenth Schedule which laid down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection.

Who stands as Defected?

  • A Member of Parliament or state legislature was deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily resigned from his party or disobeyed the directives of the party leadership on a vote.
  • A member who votes, or does not vote in the legislature, contrary to the directions of his political party. However, if the member has taken prior permission, or is condoned by the party within 15 days from such voting or abstention, the member shall not be disqualified.
  • Independent members would be disqualified if they joined a political party.
  • Nominated members who were not members of a party could choose to join a party within six months; after that period, they were treated as a party member or independent member.

Certain exceptions

  • Any person elected as speaker or chairman could resign from his party, and rejoin the party if he demitted that post.
  • A party could be merged into another if at least two-thirds of its party legislators voted for the merger (Initially it was one third 91st amendment act made it two third).
  • The law initially permitted splitting of parties, but that has now been outlawed.
May, 07, 2019

[op-ed snap] Posers on the code

CONTEXT

The Opposition has been complaining frequently about what it believes is the Election Commission’s leniency towards the ruling BJP, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The focus is now on the manner in which the EC is dealing with complaints against Mr. Modi for some of his controversial campaign speeches.

Complaints

  • While complaints against other leaders were promptly dealt with, there was an obvious delay in taking up those against Mr. Modi. Few would have failed to notice that he has been running an abrasive campaign.
  •  It was only after the matter reached the Supreme Court that the three-member EC began to dispose of the complaints.
  • It has found nothing wrong in most of the remarks about which complaints were made for possible violation of the Model Code of Conduct.
  • What is disconcerting is the EC’s finding that none of his remarks touching on the role of the armed forces under his rule violates the directive against the use of the armed forces for political propaganda.
  • That some of these decisions were not unanimous, but marked by dissent from one of the Election Commissioners, points to the seriousness of the credibility crisis the institution is facing.

Election Commission’s Reactions

  • So far the EC has rejected six complaints.
  • The prohibition against the use of the armed forces in election propaganda is to underscore their apolitical nature and to deny ruling parties the opportunity to project their performance as their own achievements.
  • Yet, the EC has decided that none of the references to air strikes, the nuclear option and dealing with Pakistan attracted the bar under the MCC.
  • It is difficult not to speculate that had the same remarks been made by other candidates, they may have attracted a ban on campaigning for a period.

Conclusion

The EC has so far retained its well-founded reputation, although there have been occasional complaints in the past that questioned its impartiality. It is unfortunate that this reputation for independence and even-handedness is starkly under question in this election.

May, 06, 2019

Explained: Dissent in the Election Commission

News

  • Election Commissioner has dissented with the opinion of his colleagues in the Election Commission in five different matters pertaining to alleged violations of the Model Code of Conduct.

Business of ECI

  • Section 10 (Disposal of business by Election Commission) of The Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991, lays down that “all business of the EC shall, as far as possible, be transacted unanimously”.
  • Dissent is, however, provided for in the Act itself, which says: “If the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other Election Commissioners (ECs) differ in opinion on any matter, such matter shall be decided according to the opinion of the majority”.

CEC=EC

  • The Election Commission of India draws its authority from the Constitution itself.
  • Under Article 324, the powers of “superintendence, direction and control of elections” are to be vested in an Election Commission.
  • The CEC and ECs are appointed by the President to a tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • They enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as judges of the Supreme Court of India.
  • All three Election Commissioners have equal say in the decision making of the Commission.

Members of the ECI

  • The Constitution does not, however, fix the size of the Election Commission.
  • Article 324(2) says that “the Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix”.
  • From the beginning, the Election Commission of India consisted of just the Chief Election Commissioner.
  • However, on October 16, 1989, the Congress government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi appointed two more Election Commissioners, making the Election Commission a multi-member body.
May, 01, 2019

Supreme Court seeks ECs reply on voter prosecution

News

  • The Supreme Court has sought the Election Commission’s response on a plea which sought striking down of a provision in election rules that envisages prosecution of an elector if a complaint alleging malfunctioning of EVMs and VVPATs cannot be proven.

49MA of the Conduct of Elections Rules

  • 49MA of the Conduct of Elections Rules is sought unconstitutional as it criminalised reporting of malfunctioning of EVM or VVPATs.
  • The plea contended that the onus of proving an allegation cannot be on a voter when machines used for voting showed ‘arbitrary deviant behaviour’.
  • The plea sought direction to the EC to register a complaint of any deviant behaviour of equipment used in the election process while pointing out that the burden of proof rests on the elector at the moment.
  • One risks criminal charges even if the complaint is correct as the machines need not repeat its arbitrary behavior for a second consecutive time.
  • When an elector is asked to cast a test vote, under Rule 49MA, s/he may not get the same result because of a pre-programmed deviant behaviour of EVMs, the plea said.

Then who will report malfunctioning?

  • In the course of reporting deviant behaviour of an electronic machine used in the election process, an elector has to cast two votes; first one in secrecy and the second a test vote in the presence of the candidates or polling agents.
  • A test vote cast subsequently in the presence of others cannot become a conclusive evidence of the deviant behaviour or otherwise of the previous vote cast in absolute secrecy.

Voters need security against persecution. Why?

  • Holding an elector accountable for deviant behaviours of EVMs and VVPATs could deter them from making a complaint, essential for improving the process.
  • This may also create an illusion of free and fair elections, whereas the fact would be that people have simply not come forward to lodge complaints.
  • Since only an elector could be a witness to the secrecy of his vote cast, it would violate Article 20(3) of the Constitution which says that no person accused of an offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.
Apr, 25, 2019

[op-ed snap] In defence of hung House

CONTEXT

Campaign planners the world over have woven veritable fables and fictions around themes like “chaotic coalitions” and virtues of “strong” leaders. Which is more preferable — unstable minority governments or elected dictatorship?

Political History of coalition Government

  • Were all the previous minority regimes so weak and indecisive?
  • 1991 Economic Reforms – In 1991, economic reform was launched by the Narasimha Rao government, which at that point of time did not even enjoy a legislative majority.
  • Pokhran 2 – Pokhran 2 was ordered by a minority PM who also stood up to the rigours of the subsequent US embargo.
  • Kargil War – The Kargil war was fought in 1999 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a caretaker PM without the backup of surgical strikes.
  • Nuclear Deal – The contentious nuclear deal with US was valiantly pushed by a “weak” PM. In the process, the lacklusture PM managed to stage Indian political history’s darkest cloak and dagger operation to rope in the most difficult anti-Congress politician.
  • The millennium’s first decade was India’s golden era of investment and growth.
  • It happened under two politically-riven coalitions.

Reasons for the desirability of the coalition –

1.Political Consensus Culture

  • What makes minority governments desirable is that they prevent extremes and create a culture of political consultation and consensus.
  • A crippling demonetisation or surgical bravado might not have happened under the constraints of a hung Parliament.

2.More federal – By their very nature, the coalitions tend to be more federal and allow wider scrutiny of the executive’s decisions.

3. Voice to Civil Society

  • Such governments allow more say to the members of civil society and social activists.
  • Initiatives like the RTI, RTA and Land Acquisition Act might not have been possible under an all-powerful supremo.

Why did coalition Governments fall in the past?

  • Coalitions are not inherently unstable and growth is not synonymous with strong leader.
  • The fall of the Deve Gowda government was not due to the dissensions in the UF.
  • It was triggered by outside supporter Sitaram Kesri’s prime ministerial aspirations.
  • The Congress pulled down the I K Gujral government in the hope of a return to office in 1998 on an elusive Rajiv sympathy wave.
  • Yet all the 14 UF parties stood together with their two PMs and went to the next elections as an alliance.
  • Rainbow coalitions under Atal Bihari Vajpayee (six years) and Manmohan Singh (10 years) together held office from 1998 to 2014.
  • This was a credible achievement.
  • The dispute resolution mechanism under the 20-month UF of federal and left parties calls for a deeper appraisal for its institutionalised functioning founded on pre-decision consultations and consensus.
  • Vajpayee worked under constant pressure from Chandrababu Naidu, J Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee.
  • Within his Parivar, the RSS under K S Sudarshan, an ardent adherent of swadeshi economics, tried to put hurdles to Vajpayee’s reform initiatives.
  • It objected to privatisation, labour reform, the patents bill and FDI in retail and insurance. Yet Vajpayee was hailed as a successful liberaliser.

Working of Populism And Authoritarianism

  • In India, populism meant bestowing preferred vote banks with economically unjustifiable freebies.
  • It is not so in the global context.
  • Elected dictators world over display a tendency to short-circuit the functioning democratic institutions to establish a direct communication with voters.
  • They avoid making a statement on floor of the House, but address people directly.
  • Constitutional bodies are treated as hurdles and must be seized or rendered comatose.
  • Media control is their forte.

 

Apr, 20, 2019

Voting rights of undertrials and convicts

News

  • The Supreme Court is hearing a plea questioning an electoral law which denies undertrials and convicts their right to vote.
  • The petition has been moved under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.

Voting rights of Prisoners

  • Section 62(5) of the RP Act of 1951 mandates that “no person shall vote at any election if he is confined in a prison, whether under a sentence of imprisonment or transportation or otherwise, or is in the lawful custody of the police”.
  • The provisions however exempt a person held under preventive detention from this rigor.

Invokes violation of FR

  • The petition highlights how the Section sees both an under-trial and a convicted person equally. The former’s guilt is yet to be proved in a court.
  • A person is innocent until proven guilty by law. Despite this, it denies an under-trial the right to vote but allows a detainee the same. However, a person out on bail is allowed to cast his vote.
  • The plea argued that the provision violates the rights to equality, vote (Article 326) and is arbitrary. It is not a reasonable restriction.

Back2Basic

Article 32 of the Indian Constitution

  • The right to move the SC by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the Fundamental Rights is guaranteed under this article.
  • The SC shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs any of the FRs.
  • Parliament can empower any other court to issue directions, orders and writs of all kinds (for HC, under 226).
  • The right to move the Supreme Court shall not be suspended except by President during a national emergency (Article 359).
  • Supreme Court has been vested with the powers for to provide a remedy for the protection of the FRs.
  • Only FRs can be enforced under Article 32 and not any other like non-fundamental constitutional rights, statutory rights, customary rights etc.
Apr, 18, 2019

[op-ed snap] The Lack of a Legal Status for the Model Code of Conduct Leaves Room for Ambiguity

Context

For the past few months, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has been brought under increasing scrutiny for its diffidence and deference to the ruling regime. The Election Commission is ceding space to the ruling party instead of innovatively enhancing the residuary powers bestowed upon it by Article 324 of the constitution.

Incidents of concession from ECI

  • Deferral of announcement of dates for the state assembly elections –  The ECI’s deferral of announcement of dates for the state assembly elections in five states in October last year, was largely construed as giving time to the prime minister to complete his public address in Ajmer, before the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) kicked in.
  • EVMs– More recently, the charges of EVM malfunctions and the ECI’s reluctance to check a more substantial proportion of VVPATs.
  • Not restraining political parties – and what appears to be its helplessness in restraining political parties – especially the ruling BJP – from violating the MCC, have diminished the stature of the ECI.

Model code of conduct

  • The MCC is an important mode through which procedural certainty and deliberative content of elections are assured.
  • A ‘firmed up’ MCC authorised by the ECI came into force in 1979.
  • Importance of MCC
    • Despite the fact that it emerged as a moral code for voluntary adherence, over the years the MCC has acquired ‘supplementary legality’
    • Since the MCC itself does not have the force of law, it is enforced through executive decision-making.
    • It remains, therefore, ambiguous and uneven as far as the modality of implementation and certainty of execution, are concerned.
    • Since 1991, the Model Code has come to be seen as an integral part of elections.
    • It was also during this period that the MCC experienced its passage from an ‘agreed set of dos and don’ts’ among political parties, to a measure directed at restraining the party in power.
    • James Lyngdoh, the CEC of India from 2001 to 2004, describes this transition as ‘pitching into the party in power’.

History of bureaucratic neutrality in Elections

  • Amidst allegations of misuse of official machinery by the ruling party, Nehru reminded all political parties to adopt the right means, in order to ensure fairness in electoral outcome. Speaking in Akola, in Maharashtra, Nehru reminded public servants to stay neutral.
  • The Bharatiya Jana Sangha addressed itself to the party in power, through the idiom of civil liberties. Speaking at the All India Civil Liberties Conference in Nagpur on 25th August 1951, Syama Prasad Mookerjee claimed that the protection of civil liberties was a component of free and fair elections.

ECI’s Role in present Elections

  • No legal sanction to MCC – The ECI has remained averse to giving the MCC a statutory character, preferring the advantage of ‘quick’ executive action and also to retain Article 324 as the source of its authority rather than re-assign it to a pre-existing parliamentary statute.
  • Political parties’ disregard –  MCC compliance deficit being witnessed in the 2019 elections reflects the political parties’ disregard towards the MCC, as well as the inability of the ECI to retain its constitutional advantage through constant vigilance and stern action.

Conclusion

  • In the past, successive ECIs have elicited compliance by public censure and invoking sections of the IPC and the Representation of the Peoples Act.
  • Elections have become the site of unprecedented display of money, muscle and technology as power.
  • Its concentration in any party gives it extraordinary and unfair advantage in electoral competition.
  • The ECI must guard against ceding the space which it has extracted and affirmed by innovatively enhancing the residuary powers given to it in Article 324 of the Constitution of India.

 

 

 

 

Apr, 18, 2019

[op-ed snap] The ethical act of voting

CONTEXT

Voting is the duty of having to act not for individual benefit, but for the benefit of the larger society.

Human Nature

  • There is a puzzling trait that is pervasive and human.
  • It is that we often judge others with a different yardstick than with which we judge ourselves.
  • This is also part of a deeper human malaise: we think others are wrong and we are right in our beliefs and opinions. Elections exemplify these tendencies very well.

Sentiments during Elections

  • In the time of elections, we repeatedly hear these sentiments about other voters.
  •  Upper classes  – The upper classes will tell you that poorer citizens vote only to get benefits such as cash, clothes, television sets and other consumer goods.
  •  Majority group – The majority group will say that the minorities vote as a bloc since they have all been told whom to vote for.
  • These are seen as examples of voters not doing their duty of voting for the best person, namely, the best political representative who will govern well.
  • Ideological Approach – Those who support a particular party will say something similar about those who are voting for another party.
  • It is as if when people vote for money or as a vote bank, they are not doing what they should. But then it could also be argued that a person who blindly votes for one ideology or another is pretty much doing the same thing.

Getting paid for voting

1.Practice of gettin paid for voting

  • This practice is not only endemic across States but is also done quite brazenly in some places.
  • Party members go house to house and distribute money and other goods. This is done in the open and is a performance in itself.

2.Against Democracy

  • In the case of taking money or goods, voters see elections as a transaction.
  • This goes against a fundamental principle of democratic voting, which is that voting is not a transaction.
  • When we do a job for someone we don’t know, and which benefits that person, we generally expect to get paid for that act.
  • Voting is not a job – Voting is not a job in that sense. It is not a job which is eligible for some compensation.

3.Questions regarding voting

  • Are we voting for our own sake or for the benefit of others?
  • Does voting improve our well-being or that of others, the elected politicians?
  • Or is it that the ultimate purpose of an individual’s vote is to improve the well-being of the larger society?

4.Answers

  • If a person wins because of our votes, then he or she derives enormous benefit from being a member of the legislature.
  • The logic for getting Paid
    • Why can’t the voter who is enabling opportunity for another person’s wealth ask for a share in that wealth? If voters do so, then they are behaving rationally.
    • Giving money to voters is thus like an investment. The amount of payment to voters is really a measure of how much elected representatives hope to make during their tenure!
    • When we vote based on our ideology, we are following the same logic as those taking money.
    • When a group of rich people vote for a person who supports lower taxes, they are doing exactly the same as the poor, since voting is used as a transaction to get something they desire.

Way Forward

  • Voting is not a transaction – The fundamental problem lies in viewing voting as a transaction, the aim of which is to get some benefit for an individual or a group.
  • But we have to recognise that voting is not like any other transaction.
  • Voting is an ethical duty – The duty that is inherent in the act of voting is an ethical duty, not just a constitutional one.
  • It is the duty of having to act not for individual benefit, such as money or ideology, but for the benefit of the larger society.
  • For benefit of the larger society – Such benefit for the larger society will include others benefiting as much as each one of us does through each of our votes.
  • Beyond Self Interest – It is also a recognition that a democratic action like voting is primarily for the good of something larger than one’s self interests.

 

 

 

 

Apr, 18, 2019

Explained: What Supreme Court said on petition to disqualify tainted candidates

News

Background

  • A famous religious head who has been chargesheeted in a bomb blast case is contesting the elections.
  • This has raised concerns amongst various section of society including Politicians as well
  • The legal bar on contesting applies only to individuals who have been convicted by a court.

Criminalization of politics

  • It is a political buzzword in the democracies used in the media, by commentators, bloggers as well as by defenders of high-ranking government officials who have been indicted or have faced criminal or ethical investigations.

Judicial Limitations over the matter

  • Though criminalization in politics is a bitter manifest truth, which is a termite to the citadel of democracy, be that as it may, the Court cannot make the law.
  • In Sept 2018, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court said that it was not within its powers to disqualify politicians facing criminal cases from contesting elections.
  • The Courts directions to the EC are of the nature as sought in the case at hand, may in an idealist world seem to be at a cursory glance, an antidote to the malignancy of criminalization in politics but such directions.
  • However on closer scrutiny, it clearly reveals that it is not constitutionally permissible.

What courts can do to prevent Criminalization?

  • The Court may Parliament to bring out a strong law whereby it is mandatory for the political parties to revoke membership of persons against whom charges are framed in heinous and grievous offences.
  • This, “in our attentive and plausible view”, the court said, “would go a long way in achieving decriminalization of politics and usher in an era of immaculate, spotless, unsullied and virtuous constitutional democracy”.

What about innocent accused?

  • It is one thing to take cover under the presumption of innocence of the accused.
  • It is true that false cases are foisted on prospective candidates, but the same can be addressed by the Parliament through appropriate legislation.
  • It is equally imperative that persons who enter public life and participate in law making should be above any kind of serious criminal allegation.

Way Forward

  • A time has come that the Parliament must make a law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter into the political stream.
  • The nation eagerly waits for such legislation, for the society has a legitimate expectation to be governed by proper constitutional governance.
  • The voters cry for systematic sustenance of constitutionalism should not be at the peril of lack of political will.
Apr, 17, 2019

[op-ed snap] Sealed disclosure

CONTEXT

The Supreme Court’s interim order asking political parties to disclose, to the Election Commission in sealed covers, details of the donations they have received through anonymous electoral bonds is an inadequate and belated response to the serious concerns raised about the opaque scheme.

Details of the Judgement

  • The scheme, under which one can purchase bonds of various denominations from a designated bank and deposit them in the accounts of any political party, had been challenged in the apex court a year ago.
  • When the matter was taken up last week, it was considered that the time available was too limited for an in-depth hearing.
  • Maintenance of status quo – The order, unfortunately, preserves the status quo, and any effect that the possible asymmetry in political funding would have on the election process will stay as it is.
  • Availability of donor’s name with EC – The only concession given to those concerned about the dangers of anonymous political funding is that the names would be available with the EC, albeit in sealed envelopes, until the court decides if they can be made public.
  • Large donations to ruling Party – There is some concern that a disproportionately large segment of the bonds purchased by corporate donors has gone to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
  • This donor anonymity may end if the court decides that the EC should disclose the names at the end of the litigation, but the influence such donations would have had on the electoral outcome would remain undisturbed.
  • Bearing on the electoral Process – The court notes in its order that the case gives rise to “weighty issues which have a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country”

Implications of Judgement

  • All it has done now is to ensure that its interim arrangement does not ‘tilt the balance’ in favour of either side.
  • Petitioner’s Argument – The petitioners, the Association for Democratic Reforms, questioned the anonymity-based funding scheme on the grounds that it promotes opacity, opens up the possibility of black money being donated to parties through shell companies and empowers the ruling party, which alone is in a position to identify the donors and, therefore, well placed to discourage donations to other parties
  • Government’s Argument – The government, on the other hand, argued that electoral bonds would prevent unaccounted money from entering the system through funding of parties.

Conclusion

  • Supreme court’s role in maintaining Transparency -For the last two decades, the Supreme Court has been proactive in empowering voters and in infusing transparency in the system.
  • It has developed a body of jurisprudence that says the electoral process involves the voter being given information about candidates, their qualifications, assets and crime records, if any.
  • Therefore, it is disappointing to hear the Attorney General arguing that voters do not have a right to know who funds parties.
  • Now that there is no stay on the operation of the scheme, the court must render an early verdict on the legality of the electoral bond scheme.

 

 

 

Apr, 17, 2019

[op-ed snap] Indelicate imbalance

CONTEXT

The Election Commission has pulled up Doordarshan for giving twice as much airtime to the ruling BJP as it has given to the most important opposition party, the Congress.

Track Record of Doordarshan in Lok Sabha Elections

  • The portion of the CPM is much worse: It has been allocated only a tenth of the Congress’s airtime and a twentieth that of the BJP.
  • Broadcaster’s Argument – The broadcaster has argued that that it is a reflection of ground realities.
  • The BJP controls more governments and has more legislators across the country — but that cuts no ice.

Harm to free and fair Elections

  • At this time, when voters are exercising their choice, candidates should be given equal opportunity, irrespective of their parties’ legislative strength.
  • Otherwise, the national public broadcaster, funded by the taxpayer and autonomous under the Prasar Bharati Act, would be seen as a captive channel of the ruling party, as it was in Indira Gandhi’s time.

Lessons From other countries

1.USA

  • In the US, an equal time rule for political candidates was spelled out in the Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934, on account of the fear that in its absence, television networks would be able to sway elections simply by blanking out one side.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also imposed a fairness doctrine from 1949 to 2011, which did not apply to candidates but to issues, and ensured that all sides of a debate were equitably represented on air.
  • However, this was withdrawn as an impractical principle, since one side of a debate is sometimes patently absurd.

2.UK

  • In 2014, the BBC Trust in the UK pulled up its journalists for skewing coverage of science issues by, for instance, giving climate change deniers equal representation in debates.
  • But in political matters, it has supported equal opportunity. In 2003, BBC staff were required to reflect “significant opposition to the conflict” (in short, protesters) in coverage of the invasion of Iraq, and “allow the arguments to be heard and tested”.

Way Forward

  • Doordarshan is publicly funded and is insulated from government interference by law.
  • If the apportioning of its airtime is seen to favour the ruling party, it is failing in its duty as a public broadcaster.
  • Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati has spoken of the pressures of competing with commercial channels.
  • The argument is irrelevant, since the primary responsibility of a public broadcaster is not to compete for eyeballs, but to present news and opinions in a balanced manner so that intelligent viewers can make up their own minds.
Apr, 16, 2019

[op-ed snap] Level-playing field matters

CONTEXT

The finance ministry’s electoral bond scheme has afforded a way to fund political parties without disclosing the donor’s identity. The anonymity provision is antagonistic to transparency — the bonds merely enable an “on-the-books” secretive transfer.

Money power in Current General Election

  • In just 28 days since the announcement of the general election, the Election Commission (EC) has seized cash, drugs, alcohol, precious metals and other items worth Rs 1,800 crore.
  • Compare this to the legal upper limit of expenditure per candidate — Rs 70 lakh.
  • Simple arithmetic would show that the seized amount can fully finance up to five candidates from each of the 543 constituencies.
  • The expenditure in any election is estimated to be several times the legal upper limit.

Need for state Funding of elections

  • Fiscal constraints on electioneering give rise to the problem of unaccounted money.
  • There have been a few solutions.
  • However, all of them are premised on an adverse relationship between accountability and transparency.
  • Alternately, state funding of the recognised political parties and outlawing of corporate funding could be instrumental in making the electoral process fairer and more participatory.

History of introducing State funding of elections

  • In 1962, the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee moved a Private Member’s Bill to prevent electoral donations by corporates.
  • It was argued that since all shareholders need not subscribe to the political endorsement by a corporate, it was immoral to allow donations against their consent.
  • Vajpayee had propositioned that such funding would only serve corporate interests.
  • While all political parties welcomed the bill, the then ruling party did not vote in its favour.

Provision regarding donations

  • Under Section 29B of the Representation of the People Act 1951, political parties are free to accept donations from any person, except from a foreign source.
  • wo inferences can be drawn from this — first, money wields the ability to disrupt political agenda; second, foreign money dilutes electoral integrity.
  • Both reasons would equally be valid for any person who is alien to the election process — a non-voter.

Concerns from Foreign Funding and Corporate Funding

  • The concerns that arise from foreign-funding are equally applicable to funding from corporates, with the distinction that while the former is a jurisdictional alien; the latter, on account of being a non-participant, is an alien. However, party interests deter further expansion in the law.
  • Corporates’ Standing on donations to political Parties
    • Corporates have long defended their political donations on the grounds of freedom of speech.
    • Like citizens, they seek to endorse their economic and political views through contributions to campaign finance. However, casting such a wide net of freedom of speech seems misplaced.
  • Corporates are associations that further economic interests of their members who enjoy a freedom of trade.
  • Since corporates are not participants as voters, they have no claim to freedom of “political” speech and expression.
  • Therefore, while citizen-voters can donate to a political party pursuant to free speech, corporates must refrain from donating to a political party.

Analysis of Electoral Bond Scheme

  • The finance ministry’s electoral bond scheme afforded a way to fund political parties without disclosing the donor’s identity.
  • The ruling party is the main Beneficiary – Of the Rs 2,722 crore donated through the scheme in the last 15 months, almost 95 per cent has gone to the ruling party, which enjoys a 31.34 per cent vote share.
  • The remaining contestants with a 68.66 per cent vote share could only garner 5 per cent funding.
  • The anonymity provision under the scheme is antagonistic to transparency — the bonds merely enable an “on-the-books” secretive transfer.
  • The State Bank as the facilitator would be privy to the details of the depositor and the political party funded, therefore allowing the ruling party to monitor its rivals.
  • What would be unknown to others will be known by the ruling party.

Corporates’ Standing on donations to political Parties

  • Corporates have long defended their political donations on the grounds of freedom of speech.
  • Like citizens, they seek to endorse their economic and political views through contributions to campaign finance. However, casting such a wide net of freedom of speech seems misplaced.

Lessons From the Brazilian Supreme Court’s Verdict  on the corporate donation

  • In 2015, the Brazilian Supreme Court declared corporate financing of elections to be unconstitutional.
  • Right to equality is violated – The court understood that right to equality was essential to ensuring fairness through the extrinsic (fair options between candidates) and intrinsic (fair options between ideologies) conceptions.
  • Because 95 per cent of all campaign finance came from corporates, the courts felt that disclosure norms could only address the extrinsic aspect.
  • Corporate Funding Suppress ideological diversity – Corporates would still be able to collectively suppress certain socio-economic ideologies (welfare measures, controlled economy, wage-labour regulations) to their advantage, by inducing political parties and candidates.
  • So, the electoral contest would not allow certain policies to flourish, irrespective of who won. Outlawing corporate funding was important to ensure the right to equality.

Way Forward

  • In realpolitik terms, there is no incentive for any ruling political party to reform the law as it stands.
  • Even the main Opposition party lives in the hope that it would derive similar advantage when it comes to power.
  • Electoral Funding to EC –
    • Thus, necessity would dictate that the task of electoral funding be given to the EC under Article 324.
    • A fair and transparent manner to finance the political parties would require a censure of unaccounted money and direct donations by corporates and non-voters to political parties.
  • State Funding –
    • State funding of recognised political parties is a viable alternative.
    • A state funding scheme would be viable through the levy of an election cess on the direct taxes.
    • A National Election Fund could be maintained by the EC, into which the proceeds from this cess may be deposited.
    • At the current GDP-Direct Tax ratio and voter numbers, a 1 per cent election cess can fund Rs 500 for each vote cast in elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies.
    • The cess being progressive would spare the poorer candidates from the costs of funding elections.
    • Direct donations to political parties may be permitted only from persons who are entitled to vote. Those not entitled to vote may contribute to the neutral National Election Fund.

Conclusion

  • Donations from corporates into this fund will not distort the election process, but would instead improve the integrity of the peoples’ electoral choice.
  • Parties would be inclined to adopt a more inclusive agenda when in government since more votes will translate into more state funding.
  • Parties will also vie for votes in absolute numbers than merely be the first past the post. Democracy will then truly be of the people, for the people and by the people.
Apr, 13, 2019

[op-ed snap] Not Half Done

CONTEXT

The first phase of voting on Thursday to elect the 17th Lok Sabha witnessed enthusiastic participation of voters in 91 Lok Sabha constituencies across 20 States and Union Territories.

Trends

  • In this opening phase of a total of seven, the challenges in ensuring a free and fair poll, as well as the trend of high enthusiasm among voters, have been highlighted.
  • The drive of the Election Commission of India against malpractices led, ahead of the first phase, to seizures worth ₹2,426 crore of cash, liquor, drugs and other items meant to unduly influence voters.
  • Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and parts of Odisha also voted to elect their State Assemblies.
  • Tripura and West Bengal topped in turnout, with 81.8% and 81%, respectively.
  • This is the first general election with VVPATs attached to all EVMs. According to the ECI, 1.7% of VVPATs, 0.73% of the ballot units and 0.61% of the control units of EVMs had to be replaced on Thursday.
  • Stray incidents of violence were reported in Andhra Pradesh, but in Jammu and Kashmir the polling went relatively peacefully.
  • In the Jammu constituency 72% polling was recorded, while in the Valley’s Baramulla constituency the figure was 35%, marginally lower than the 2014 figures.
  • Isolated complaints regarding mismanagement arose in some parts, but by and large the first phase went on well, and upheld India’s reputation in managing what is the world’s largest democratic exercise.

 

ECI’s Effectiveness

  • The ECI’s decision to ban the release of a biopic on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its order to stop the broadcast of political content on a TV channel meant for his propaganda were measures in the right direction.
  • But the trail of serious violations of the Model Code of Conduct and the defiance of its previous directives by the ruling dispensation and Mr. Modi himself raise a lot of questions regarding the ECI’s effectiveness in being a neutral and fair arbiter.

Doubts Regarding the impartiality of Institution

  • The questions regarding the integrity of the elections arising out of doubts about EVMs have been addressed with 100% Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails, followed by a Supreme Court-directed increase in their random counting rate from one machine to five per Assembly constituency/segment.
  • But doubts arising out of the ECI’s conduct fall in a different category, and it needs to do more to reassure voters that the process is not vitiated by partisanship.
  • The seemingly biased moves by Central agencies such as the Income Tax department targeting only Opposition leaders point to the possible misuse of office by the ruling party to target opponents.
  • Mr. Modi’s appeal to voters in the name of soldiers — something the ECI had explicitly warned against — was unfortunate, as was the Commission’s failure to take prompt action.

Way Forward

While the ECI must urgently respond to MCC violations, the government must act fairly.

Apr, 13, 2019

[op-ed snap] Bonds and binds

CONTEXT

On Friday, the Supreme Court took the first step towards resolving the controversy over political funding that erupted after the government introduced the electoral bonds scheme last year.

Court’s direction

  • The Court refused to accede to the request of the NGOs, Common Cause and Association for Democratic Reforms, and the CPM for an immediate stay of the new mechanism to fund elections.
  • But the key message from the three-judge bench’s decision underlines the complexity of the issue: “Rival contentions by the parties and respondents raise weighty issues which have tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process.”
  • The court has decided to examine the issue in detail.

Electoral Bonds

  • Electoral bonds are bearer instruments like promissory notes and can be purchased by an Indian citizen or a body incorporated in the country.
  • The identity of the donor will be known only to the bank, and it will be kept anonymous.
  • Given that political funding used to be a way to whitewash black money, the switch to a mechanism that operates through the banking system is undoubtedly a step forward in ensuring clean political funding.

Concerns by Election Commission

  • However, questions over the issue of donor anonymity were raised even before the scheme was notified.
  • In May 2017, the Election Commission (EC) had argued that the proviso that exempts political parties from disclosing the names of donors militates against “greater transparency” in political funding.
  • The Commission’s concerns were also linked to the amendment to the Companies Act in 2017, which lifted the cap on the amount corporates could contribute to political parties.
  • This opens up the possibility of shell companies being set up for the sole purpose of making donations to political parties,” the EC had noted in a letter to the law ministry two years ago.
  • . But the fact also is that with most of the bonds being issued and encashed at public-sector banks, the party holding office at the Centre can always access these particulars.

Government’s stand

  • The government contends that the anonymity provision is necessary to prevent donors from being victimised, in case they turn out to have supported the losing party.
  • If you back the wrong horse, then tomorrow an industrialist who is bidding for a dam will get victimised if the opposite party came to power,” Attorney General K K Venugopal pointed out during the hearing of the case.

Way Forward

  • The SC’s order  is alive to these concerns.
  • It has directed all political parties to furnish details of the funding received through electoral bonds, including the identity of the donors, to the EC by May 30.
  • But this, as the Court pointed out, is only an interim measure.
  • This verdict is also a message to the political class to debate more thoroughly the long-pending issue of political funding in order to resolve the anonymity vs transparency impasse.

 

Apr, 12, 2019

[op-ed snap] Election Omission

CONTEXT

The Election Commission of India, once a formidable force during elections as poll monitor, is now being heard less and less, or only for its feeble interventions.

Events Weakening authority of election commission

  • The election process has only just begun but there is already a long list of interventions by the players that have seemed to challenge, if not outrightly flout, the Model Code of Conduct, and get away with it.
  • UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath called the Indian army “Modi ji ki sena (Modi’s army)”, and despite the EC’s direction to parties, post-Pulwama, to desist from political propaganda involving the armed forces, earned only a tepid warning.
  • The Niti Aayog chairperson spoke publicly against the Congress’s Nyay scheme.
  • Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh also crossed the lines of his institutional role and shared his fervent faith in the leadership of Narendra Modi ahead of polls.
  • The EC has handed the Kalyan Singh matter to the President who has forwarded it to the Home Ministry.
  • The list goes on, and it includes the hagiographic Modi bio-pic seeking release days ahead of polling, and the income tax raids that seem to target leaders of the Opposition parties across the country.
  • Last but certainly not least, it includes speeches by the Prime Minister himself that are communally charged and appeal to “Hindu” voters and hold up the figure of the soldier.

Election Commission’s Response

  • In all these matters, the EC has been muted, when it has not been silent.
  • Of course, this is not to say that the EC, mostly, can go far beyond the slap on the wrist anyway — it has resorted only in extraordinary situations to its stronger powers under Article 324 of the Constitution.
  • The Model Code of Conduct, which is routinely invoked, is more spirit, less letter — primarily, a moral and ethical restraint on parties in the poll fray.
  • Yet, it is also true that the EC has, in the past, used its subtle powers to greater effect.
  • It has amplified its influence by its vigilance and impartiality. As a result, the EC’s censure was deemed to be embarrassing to the censured, it was a rebuke that mattered.

Conclusion

  • By all indications, the EC’s reprimand is losing its power to chasten.
  • It is also evident that this is not just because of a larger coarsening of the political discourse, but more specifically, due to the EC’s own unwillingness or inability, or both, to push back at a time when the political executive is strong and overweening.
  • This depletion of the EC’s stature is troubling and must be reversed — much depends on it in an exuberant and boisterous democracy.

 

 

 

Apr, 12, 2019

EC stalls release of biopics

News

  • The Election Commission (EC) banned the screening of the biopic of a leader along two other movies with political content, during the election period.

Elections: A level playing field

  • A level playing field is a concept about fairness, not that each player has an equal chance to succeed, but that they all play by the same set of rules.
  • A playing field is said to be level if no external interference affects the ability of the players to compete fairly.

Checking the violation of MCC

  • According to the order, any poster or publicity material concerning any such certified content, which either depicts a candidate for the furtherance of electoral prospects, directly or indirectly, shall not be put on display in electronic media in the area where the MCC is in force.
  • Such ‘political content’ posed a “serious threat to the level playing field” and ought to be regulated during the election period to prevent violation of the MCC.
  • The order covers all other such movies, content on television and internet.

Why such move?

  • EC is of the considered view that there was an emergent need for intervention in the matter of those ‘political contents’, which are intended, or purported to be, for benefitting or discrediting the electoral prospect of any candidate or political party to ensure a level-playing field.

What empowers EC to do so?

  • The EC order pointed to Article 324 of the Constitution to state that it is the duty of the commission to take necessary measures to create a level playing field and provide a conducive electoral environment to all stakeholders.
Apr, 10, 2019

[op-ed snap]Closure on cynicism

CONTEXT

By ordering an increase of the existing Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) verification rate from one to five random Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) per Assembly constituency or segment, the Supreme Court has sought to reassure those sceptical about the integrity of counting by means of EVMs.

Impact of this decision

  • By limiting the verification to five machines instead of the 125-odd machines per constituency that the Opposition’s demand for a 50% VVPAT count would have amounted to, the apex court has enabled the Election Commission of India to declare the results on the counting day itself.
  • The higher figure, which will increase the overall number of EVMs to be counted to close to 20,000 machines, should reasonably address the very remote possibility of ‘insider fraud’.
  • It will also verify a higher sample of EVMs in the smaller States and bring the sample within reasonable confidence levels to discount chances of EVM-tampering.
  • In any case, the VVPAT slip verification is more of a reassurance to voters that the EVM is indeed foolproof, over and above the technical and administrative safeguards that are already in place to prevent any tampering.

ECI’s Point of view and efforts

  • For the ECI, the key technical issue with EVMs and VVPATs is not really in regard to tampering but to machine glitches.
  • While the parliamentary by-elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and the Assembly election in Karnataka last year had registered significant machine replacement rates (20% and 4%, respectively), these were brought down to less than 2% in later elections held in the winter months.
  • The ECI made technical fixes to the VVPAT to make them more resilient during use across the country, and it should be well-prepared to handle any glitches during the seven-phase Lok Sabha election.
  • The availability of replacement machines and the ability to deploy them quickly in case of a failure of VVPATs are essential to avoid disruptions.

Conclusion

  • In the past couple of years, the doubts raised about EVMs by parties and the new constraints encountered in the electoral process due to hastened VVPAT implementation have bogged down the ECI and narrowed the discourse regarding electoral reforms.
  • Now that the Supreme Court has brought a closure of sorts to the issue, it is time for the ECI to focus on the hassle-free conduct of polls to the Lok Sabha and to four State Assemblies, and later consider other important issues — increasing voter enrolment, effective regulation of campaign financing and implementation of the model code of conduct.
Apr, 05, 2019

[op-ed snap ] Making democracy meaningful

CONTEXT

General Elections are due in April and May.

Does democracy only mean periodic Elections?

  • Within Indian common sense periodic elections, party-based competitive candidates, and universal adult franchise have turned out to be the primary ingredients of democracy.
  • This common sense has come to cloud everything centrally associated with the idea of democracy in general and constitutional democracy in particular.
  • Reading elections as democracy has also led to the equating of means with ends, celebrating the former, and abdicating it from all responsibility the latter demands.
  • This reduction of democracy to elections, today, threatens to undermine the core aspirations associated with it.

Problems with Elections in India

  • Elections can hardly be termed as the sole and effective conveyor belts of popular will in India any longer.
  • Probably, they were never so.

1.Marginalisation of marginalised

  • But there were reasons to hope, as the poor and the marginalised, cutting across diversity and the social and gender divide, rallied behind it in strength.
  • But the hype that has come to surround elections, the resources that it calls for, the close monitoring of the voters by boxing them in social straitjackets, and the media’s obsessive focus on elections as a gladiators’ den have deeply compromised elections as the preeminent device of representation of popular will.
  • In the process the electoral space of the poor and the marginalised has shrunk, as other devices have been put in place to elicit their assent.
  • Redistribution of resources and opportunities has been lost in the endless litany of promises of goods and bounties.

2.Role Of media

  • Sections of the media have come to play second fiddle in amplifying the sound-bites of political leaders, deploying them to construct and reconstruct opponents, with specified social constituencies in view.
  • They have found jingoism and archaic frames easy to stoke rather than nudge public sensitivity to reinforcing the democratic temper.
  • Highlighting fragments from popular memory-lane, spreading isolated events wide across the political space, and nurturing the effect of simultaneity, particularly with certain audiences in view, have been the take of much reporting these days.

While elections have been successful in reproducing the order of things, they can hardly be considered as the tool of deepening democracy and the nursery of imagining alternative human possibilities.

History of Views on Election in India

  • There has been an ambivalence regarding elections as the route to democracy in India from early on, even before Independence.
  • It is important to recall that the Indian National Congress rejected the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms (1919) that expanded the then electoral base, and entertained grave doubts with regard to the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935 till it accorded a qualified endorsement to it.
  • There have always been political tendencies in India after Independence, particularly on the Left, that have sought boycott of elections by appealing to a richer and thicker version of democracy.
  • But there is little to suggest that those who sought to reject or do away with elections have had much success in putting together an alternative, or enjoyed significant and consistent mass support for any appreciable time across the complex and deeply plural social ensemble in India.
  • Subsequent developments, particularly the option of Left parties to take the parliamentary path, demonstrate that elections as a device of choosing representatives find deep echo in the public culture in India.

Way Forward

  • As a political community, the bonds that unite Indians are not given but have to be forged, and have to be forged consciously and deliberately.
  • Certain inheritances, beliefs, memories and shared practices can be a great help in this direction, but it is also important to realise that they can be equally divisive.
  • In a complex society such as India, such a political project needs all layers of the political community.
  • There is no reason for anyone to participate in such a project unless it welcomes them as equals and enables them to pursue what they regard as the best for them.
  • This calls for auditing the election promises of political parties, extending support to some measures and rejecting others.
  • Measures such as access to quality education in the mother tongue, neighbourhood schools, strengthening public health systems, public transport, entrepreneurship and skill development, universal social insurance, and reaching out to those who suffer disadvantages in accessing these measures are definitely in synchrony with the democratic project.
  • There is a dire need to create a helm to focus on India’s democratic project.

 

Apr, 02, 2019

[pib] Community Radio Stations and SWEEP

  • In a first of its kind initiative, the ECI has reached out to over 150 Community Radio stations from across the country to help educate and inform the voters.
  • The main purpose of the workshop was for training and capacity building of Community Radios for voter education and awareness.

Community Radio Stations

  • Community radio is a radio service offering a third model of radio broadcasting in addition to commercial and public broadcasting.
  • They serve geographic communities and communities of interest.
  • They broadcast content that is popular and relevant to a local, specific audience but is often overlooked by commercial or mass-media broadcasters.
  • Community radio stations are operated, owned, and influenced by the communities they serve.

Why need community radios?

  • Community radio plays an important role in dissemination of information about government schemes and policies to the common people in local languages.
  • India is a land of diversity in terms of language, social practices, dialects and culture, a community radio can be a powerful tool to revive culture and languages that are dying.
  • It can help give voice to the voiceless in the backward community.

About Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP)

  • It is the flagship program of the Election Commission of India for voter education, spreading voter awareness and promoting voter literacy in India.
  • Since 2009, it has been working towards preparing India’s electors and equipping them with basic knowledge related to the electoral process.
  • SVEEP is designed according to the socio-economic, cultural and demographic profile of the state as well as the history of electoral participation in previous rounds of elections and learning thereof.
Mar, 26, 2019

Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) Survey

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ADR

Mains level: Decriminalization of politics in India


News

  • A nationwide survey involving more than 2.7 lakh people revealed that for 41.34% respondents, distribution of liquor, cash and freebies was an important factor behind voting for a particular candidate in an election, according to the ADR.

ADR survey of India

  • This is the third all-India survey commissioned by the ADR.
  • 86% interviewees felt that candidates with criminal background should not be in Parliament or State Assembly.
  • 89% were willing to vote for a candidate with criminal records if the candidate had done good work in the past.

Evaluating Govt. Performance

  • The respondents rated the government’s performance on 31 listed issues as below average.
  • On a scale of one to five, the respondents gave an average of 2.58 for better public transport, followed by 2.53 on the issue of electricity for domestic use and 2.52 for drinking water.
  • The government’s performance on initiatives against river and lake water pollution was rated as 2.51; 2.48 for empowerment of women and security; just 1.37 on eradication of corruption; and 1.15 on the issue of terrorism.

Priorities of Voters

  • As per the survey, better employment opportunities (46.80%), better healthcare (34.60%) and drinking water (30.50%) were the top three priorities, followed by better roads (28.34%) and better public transport (27.35%).
  • Statewise, better healthcare was the highest priority in Assam (45.78%), Kerala (45.24%) and Rajasthan (43.13%) and drinking water was the most important factor for the respondents in Karnataka (50.42%), Andhra Pradesh (45.25%) and Kerala (44.77%).

About Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR)

  • The ADR is a non-partisan, non-governmental organization which works in the area of electoral and political reforms.
  • ADR aims at bringing transparency and accountability in Indian politics and reducing the influence of money and muscle power in elections.
  • National Election Watch (NEW) is a conglomeration of over 1200 organizations across the country.
  • ADR has become the single data point for information/analysis of background details (criminal, financial and others) of politicians and of financial information of political parties.
  • ADR has chosen to concentrate its efforts in the following areas pertaining to the political system of the country:
  1. Corruption and Criminalization in the Political Process
  2. Empowerment of the electorate through greater dissemination of information relating to the candidates and the parties, for a better and informed choice
  3. Need for greater accountability of Indian Political Parties
  4. Need for inner-party democracy and transparency in party-functioning
Mar, 23, 2019

[op-ed snap]A new red line

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions & responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ECI- functioning, appointments and powers

Mains level: Ethics code to regulate social media for conducting free and fair elections


NEWS

CONTEXT

On Wednesday, the Election Commission (EC) and Internet and Mobile Association of India — the body that represents social media firms — took a decisive step towards plugging this gap. The two agencies agreed on a Code of Ethics, which social media outfits will follow during the Lok Sabha elections.

Background

  • Ever since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, new media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, have become political battlegrounds.
  • These spaces of electioneering have, however, remained unregulated because the Representation of People Act (RPA), 1951, does not cover social media.

The vision of Ethics Code

  • The Code that came into effect on March 20 ticks several boxes — it emphasises transparency and stresses on measures to “prevent abuse of social media platforms”.
  • However, as Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora put it, “the document should be seen as a work in progress”.
  • Since adherence to the Code is voluntary, much will depend on the measures taken by individual social media outfits to put the document’s guidelines into practice.
  • Section 126 of the RPA prohibits political parties and candidates from campaigning in the two days before voting.
  • In January, an EC panel suggested bringing social media platforms under the Act’s ambit so that voters are “afforded a period of reflection”.
  • The panel suggested that these new media platforms should abide by the EC’s guidelines about taking down “objectionable content”.
  • Social media outfits, however, did not agree with the recommendation that such content “be taken down within three hours of a notice”.
  • Valid legal orders will be acknowledged and/ or processed within three hours for violations reported under Section 126.
  • Also welcome is the Code’s insistence on “transparency in paid political advertisements”. Any political advertisement posted without the EC’s certification and notified as such by the EC will be acted upon expeditiously, the Code says.
  • The Code asks social media firms to train the EC’s nodal officers on how their “platforms work and on mechanisms for sending requests on dealing with offensive material”.
  • These companies will also develop a “reporting mechanism” through which the poll watchdog can inform the platforms about “potential violations of Section 126”.

Way Forward

  • The Code’s success will depend, in large measure, on how these channels of communication work. In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the conduct of the social media firms — and the EC — will be watched.

 

 

Mar, 16, 2019

[pib] Registration of political parties under Section 29A of the RP Act, 1951

Note4Students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Rules for registering a Political Party

Mains level: General Elections


News

Registering a Political Party

  • Registration of Political parties is governed by the provisions of Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • A party seeking registration under the said Section with the Commission has to submit an application to the Commission within a period of 30 days following the date of its formation.
  • This is done as per guidelines prescribed by the Election Commission of India in exercise of the powers conferred by Article 324 of the Constitution of India and Section 29A of the RP People Act, 1951.
  • The applicant association is inter-alia asked to publish proposed name of the party in two national daily news papers and two local daily newspapers, on two days in same news papers.

Important for Prelims

Eligibility of National Political Party

However, to be eligible for a ‘National Political Party of India,’ the Election Commission has set the following criteria −

  • It secures at least six percent of the valid votes polled in any four or more states, at a general election to the House of the People or, to the State Legislative Assembly; and
  • In addition, it wins at least four seats in the House of the People from any State or States. OR
  • It wins at least two percent seats in the House of the People (i.e., 11 seats in the existing House having 543 members), and these members are elected from at least three different States.

Eligibility of State Political Party

To be eligible for a ‘State Political Party,’ the Election Commission has set the following criteria −

  • It secures at least six percent of the valid votes polled in the State at a general election, either to the House of the People or to the Legislative Assembly of the State concerned; and
  • In addition, it wins at least two seats in the Legislative Assembly of the State concerned. OR
  • It wins at least three percent (3%) of the total number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the State, or at least three seats in the Assembly, whichever is more.

For more readings, navigate to:

Procedure of registration of political parties with Election Commission

Mar, 13, 2019

[op-ed snap]The urgent need for electoral reforms in India

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The newscard briefly discusses how present electoral system is problematic and needs reforms.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Electoral system, election Machinery are in dire need of reforms.

Election Year

  • The Election Commission (EC) has urged voters to vote freely, fearlessly, and make an informed and ethical choice.
  • The numbers are staggering: 900 million eligible voters, a million voting booths, 10 million election officials (not counting security personnel), an expected 10,000 candidates for 545 seats, and more than 500 political parties in the fray.

Weaknesses of The first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system 

  • The first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system seems to encourage polarization, since in a multi-corner contest, even a low vote share is enough to get you elected and this often involves an extreme ideological focus on a core voter base.
  • One consequence of FPTP is the trend of constituents being micro-targeted with customized messages.
  • Another result is the non-linear relationship between vote share and seat share. 
  • Even a 1% vote swing can increase a party’s seat share by 10-15%.
  • The particularly stark case was that of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which in 2014 got 20% of Uttar Pradesh’s vote but no single Lok Sabha seat. 

Suggestions for Electoral Reforms

  •  Electoral reforms are overdue. A comprehensive agenda was laid out by the EC itself in a letter to the prime minister back in July 2004.
  • The gist of them is to make the process more transparent, disqualify criminal elements, mandate greater disclosure of money power, forge inner-party democracy and raise voter participation. 
  • Elections are now vulnerable to the adverse influence of three ‘M’s: money, muscle and media (including the social kind).
  • The EC’s job is to minimize this influence and ensure voting free from fear and coercion, plus a level playing field.

Representativeness of Indian Parliament

  • The trend over past several Lok Sabhas has been of a widening gap between the people and their representatives. This is a matter of grave concern.
  • Be it MPs or MLAs, elected representatives are agents of the people. In economics lingo, this is a principal-agent problem, where people are the “principal”.
  • Whoever they appoint (i.e. elect) has to do their bidding, or at least act in their best interest.
  • In the absence of any other signal of “credibility” or “trustworthiness” from candidates, voters often make choices based on caste, muscle power (to “get things done”) or charisma.

Lok Sabha distancing from people

  • To assess representativeness, consider the gaps between electors and the elected on such parameters as age, gender, wealth, criminality, education, dynasty and size of constituency.
  • The average age of the 13th Lok Sabha was 55.5 years, which went down to 52.7 in the 14th, but then went up again to 53 in the 15th, and 56 in the outgoing one.
  • It was only 46.5 years in 1952. India’s median age, however, is just 26. Two-thirds of the population is below 35. Yet our MPs are getting older. In contrast, the so-called ageing countries like the UK, Italy, France and Canada are electing much younger leaders.
  • On gender, women account for only 12% of the Lok Sabha. At least three states have zero female MPs. Less than 10% of candidates are women. Not so long ago, more than two-thirds of constituencies had no single female candidate. The Women’s Reservation Bill, meanwhile, has been pending in Parliament for over four decades.
  • 82% of all Lok Sabha members are crorepatis, i.e. have declared wealth of more than 1 crore. Their numbers have gone up from 156 to 315 to 449 in the last three Lok Sabhas. Their average wealth (declared via self-sworn affidavits) is around 14 crore. (In the Rajya Sabha, the average is 55 crore). The average income is around 31 lakh, which is 20 times India’s present per capita income.
  • On criminality, the proportion of MPs with criminal cases has been going up steadily, from 12% to 15% to 21%, since 2004.
  • On dynasty, it is well known (and documented by Patrick French) that an increasing number of elected representatives have a close relative (parent, spouse, sibling or cousin) who was an incumbent or a senior politician. 
  • Since the size of India’s parliament is frozen, we have a curious anomaly of constituency sizes ranging from a few thousand to over 3 million.

Conclusion

India will soon have to grapple the issue of delimitation of constituencies and increase the number of MPs if it wants to retain the representativeness of parliament that’s essential to democracy.

 

Mar, 11, 2019

Explained: Model Code of Conduct

Note4Students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: MCC

Mains level: Ensuring fair elections


News

Background

  • The Election Commission of India has announced dates for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls with the country voting in seven phases from April 11 to May 19 and the with results on May 23.
  • With this the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has come into effect and has called upon all parties to strictly adhere to the same.
  • The code lays down a list of dos and don’ts for the political parties ahead of elections.

Model Code of Conduct

  • It is a set of guidelines issued by ECI to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections.
  • The rules range from issues related to speeches, polling day, polling booths, portfolios, content of election manifestos, processions and general conduct, so that free and fair elections are conducted.

When does it come into effect?

  • According to the PIB, a version of the MCC was first introduced in the state assembly elections in Kerala in 1960.
  • It was largely followed by all parties in the 1962 elections and continued to be followed in subsequent general elections.
  • In October 1979, the EC added a section to regulate the ‘party in power’ and prevent it from gaining an unfair advantage at the time of elections.
  • The MCC comes into force from the date the election schedule is announced until the date that results are out.

Restrictions imposed under MCC

The MCC contains eight provisions dealing with general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, the party in power, and election manifestos.

I. For Governments

  • As soon as the code kicks in, the party in power whether at the Centre or in the States should ensure that it does not use its official position for campaigning.
  • Hence, no policy, project or scheme can be announced that can influence the voting behaviour.
  • The code also states that the ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same.
  • The ruling government cannot make any ad-hoc appointments in Government, Public Undertakings etc. which may influence the voters.
  • Political parties or candidates can be criticised based only on their work record and no caste and communal sentiments can be used to lure voters.

II. For Political Parties

  • The party must also avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections.
  • The ruling party also cannot use government transport or machinery for campaigning.
  • It should also ensure that public places such as maidans etc., for holding election meetings, and facilities like the use of helipads are provided to the opposition parties on the same terms and conditions on which they are used by the party in power.

III. Campaigning

  • Holding public meetings during the 48-hour period before the hour fixed for the closing of the poll is also prohibited.
  • The 48-hour period is known as “election silence”.
  • The idea is to allow a voter a campaign-free environment to reflect on events before casting her vote
  • The issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer in the newspapers and other media is also considered an offence.
  • Mosques, Churches, Temples or any other places of worship should not be used for election propaganda. Bribing, intimidating or impersonation of voters is also barred.

Is it legally binding?

  • The fact is the MCC evolved as part of the ECI’s drive to ensure free and fair elections and was the result of a consensus among major political parties.
  • It has no statutory backing. Simply put, this means anybody breaching the MCC can’t be proceeded against under any clause of the Code..
  • The EC uses moral sanction or censure for its enforcement.

What if violated?

  • The ECI can issue a notice to a politician or a party for alleged breach of the MCC either on its own or on the basis of a complaint by another party or individual.
  • Once a notice is issued, the person or party must reply in writing either accepting fault and tendering an unconditional apology or rebutting the allegation.
  • In the latter case, if the person or party is found guilty subsequently, he/it can attract a written censure from the ECI — something that many see as a mere slap on the wrist.
  • However, in extreme cases, like a candidate using money/liquor to influence votes or trying to divide voters in the name of religion or caste, the ECI can also order registration of a criminal case under IPC or IT Act.
  • In case of a hate speech, a complaint can be filed under the IPC and CrPC; there are laws against the misuse of a religious place for seeking votes, etc.

Using powers under Art. 324

  • The Commission rarely resorts to punitive action to enforce MCC, there is one recent example when unabated violations forced EC’s hand.
  • During the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the EC had banned a leader and now party president from campaigning in order to prevent them from further vitiating the poll atmosphere with their speeches.
  • The Commission resorted to its extraordinary powers under Article 324 of the Constitution to impose the ban.
  • It was only lifted once the leaders apologised and promised to operate within the Code.

What if given Statutory Backing?

  • Both the ECI and several independent experts, believe that giving statutory backing to the MCC would only make the job of the Commission more difficult.
  • This is because every alleged offence will then have to go to an appropriate court, and right up to the Supreme Court.
  • Given the flaws of our legal system, election petitions filed decades ago are still pending before many High Courts — it is anybody’s guess what that situation might lead to.

For additional readings, pls navigate through:

Model Code of Conduct: Evolution, Enforcement, Effects, Legal Status

Mar, 06, 2019

Explained: How a change in law has made election candidates more accountable

Note4Students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Form 26

Mains level: Preventing money laundering by Politicians


News

  • Recently the Law Ministry made it mandatory for election candidates to reveal their income-tax returns of the last five years, as well as the details of their offshore assets.
  • This was done by amending Form 26, as suggested by the Election Commission of India.

Form 26

  • A candidate in an election is required to file an affidavit called Form 26 that furnishes information on her assets, liabilities, educational qualifications, criminal antecedents (convictions and pending cases) and public dues, if any.
  • The affidavit has to be filed along with the nomination papers and should be sworn before an Oath Commissioner or Magistrate of the First Class or before a Notary Public.

New changes

  • Earlier, a candidate had to only declare the last I-T return (for self, spouse and dependents). Details of foreign assets were not sought.
  • It is now mandatory for candidates to reveal their own income-tax returns of the last five years rather than only one, and the details of offshore assets, as well as the same details for their spouse, members of the Hindu Undivided Family and dependents.
  • Offshore assets, means details of all deposits or investments in foreign banks and any other body or institution abroad and details of all assets and liabilities in foreign countries

Intention behind the move

  • The objective behind introducing Form 26 was that it would help voters make an informed decision.
  • The affidavit would make them aware of the criminal activities of a candidate, which could help prevent people with questionable backgrounds from being elected to an Assembly or Parliament.
  • With the recent amendment, voters will know the extent to which a serving MP’s income grew during his five years in power.

Not so easily implemented

  • Like most recent electoral reforms in India, Form 26 was introduced on September 3, 2002, following a court order.
  • The genesis of the affidavit can be traced to the 170th Report of the Law Commission, submitted in May 1999, which suggested steps for preventing criminals from entering electoral politics.
  • One of the suggestions was to disclose the criminal antecedents as well as the assets of a candidate before accepting her nomination.
  • The then government did not act on the recommendation, leading to public interest litigation in Delhi High Court in December 1999.
  • In 2002 the Union government promulgated an Ordinance diluting the EC’s order.
  • The government subsequently also amended the Election Conduct Rules of 1961 on September 3, 2002, to prescribe Form 26 in which a candidate had to disclose the above information.
  • The SC declared the amendment null and void. The EC then issued a fresh order on March 27, 2003, seeking information on all five points mentioned in the SC order of May 2, 2002.

What happens if a candidate lies in an affidavit?

  • A candidate is expected to file a complete affidavit. Leaving a few columns blank can render the affidavit “nugatory”.
  • It is the responsibility of the Returning Officer (RO) to check whether Form 26 has been completed; the nomination paper can be rejected if the candidate fails to fill it in full.
  • If it is alleged that a candidate has suppressed information or lied in her affidavit, the complainant can seek an inquiry through an election petition.
  • If the court finds the affidavit false, the candidate’s election can be declared void.
  • The current penalty for lying in an affidavit is imprisonment up to six months, or fine, or both.
  • EC considered this as a corrupt practice.
Feb, 23, 2019

Indelible ink’s new challenger: invisible ink

Note4students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Indelible and Invisible ink- Chemical composition

Mains level: Not Much


News

  • The Delhi-based National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the creator of indelible ink, has a new concern that, when applied on the finger, it doesn’t leave a trace.
  • It merely glows a bright orange when a low-intensity beam of ultraviolet light is shone on it.

Indelible Ink in India

  1. The ink was first used during India’s third General Elections in 1962. Indelible ink has been used in every General Election since
  2. At the time, the country’s election commission was having a tough time dealing with identity theft, as they soon discovered that there were duplicate or fake votes.

Chemical Composition

  1. Indelible ink is made of a chemical compound called silver nitrate.
  2. When applied to the skin and exposed to ultraviolet light, it leaves a mark that is almost impossible to wash off.
  3. The stain is so strong, in fact, it is only removed when the external skin cells are replaced
  4. When put on the skin, silver nitrate reacts with the salt present on it to form silver chloride.
  5. Silver chloride is not soluble in water, and clings to the skin. It cannot be washed off with soap and water.

Issues with it

  1. The indelible ink was formulated as a deterrent against voting twice.
  2. But strangely enough, voters in some countries found the stained finger rather unseemly.
  3. In India, we are proud to display our voter’s ink, but apparently in some countries people don’t want to display such a mark.

Invisible Ink

  1. The NPL prepared the ‘invisible ink’ as part of a pilot project mooted by the Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd. (MVPL)
  2. It is a transparent liquid as an organic-inorganic mixture that was biodegradable and could be washed off in 48 hours.
  3. It works on the well-known principle of fluorescence — certain materials emit a characteristic glow when exposed to ultraviolet light.
  4. The NPL ink, however, glows only when exposed to a narrow band of frequencies of ultraviolet (UV) light.
  5. The NPL’s invisible ink experiment is linked to a larger project of creating security inks that could be used to make bank notes and documents, such as passports, more secure.
Feb, 07, 2019

[op-ed snap] Checks and balance On EVMs

Note4Students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of EVM process.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues in the EVM process and demand for implementation of VVPAT during the general elections, in a brief manner.


Context

  • In a significant and welcome change from their earlier demand for a return to paper ballots, representatives of a large section of the mainstream Opposition parties met the Election Commission (ECI) to demand changes to the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail counting process during the general elections.

Returning to paper ballots will be regressive

  • The Electronic Voting Machine process, despite the plethora of grievances about its functioning from the Opposition parties, is a major improvement over paper-based voting.
  • There has been no evidence of EVM-tampering as claimed by some parties, and administrative and technical safeguards instituted by the ECI and EVM manufacturers have held steady since the introduction of the EVM.

Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail

  • Despite this, the ECI had fast-tracked the implementation of the VVPAT, an adjunct to the EVM that allows for a paper trail for voting and later verification of the electronically registered mandate in the ballot unit of the EVM.
  • VVPATs are now deployed in all Assembly and parliamentary elections with EVMs.

Some misgivings remains

  • This implementation has not been without some misgivings.
  • The Opposition’s demand for a count of 50% of the VVPAT slips, as opposed to the current system of counting VVPAT slips in one randomly selected booth of each constituency, is aimed at ensuring that EVMs have not been tampered with.
  • ECI safeguards are robust enough to prevent this, but VVPAT recounts could eliminate any remaining doubt about possible “insider fraud” by errant officials or manufacturers.

Whether counting one booth per constituency is statistically significant sample?

  • While the demand to count half of all the slips is an over-reaction, as a scientifically and randomly chosen sample of booths is a reasonable enough verification for the process.
  • However, there remains the question whether counting one booth per constituency is a statistically significant sample to rule out errors.
  • A more robust sampling technique that factors in the average size of the electorate in any constituency for each State and voter turnout, involving the counting of more than a single booth in some States, may be a better method.
  • The ECI’s response that it is waiting for a report on this from the Indian Statistical Institute should be encouraging.

Machine glitches

  • The other issue with the VVPAT is more significant: machine glitches.
  • During the parliamentary by-elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and Assembly elections in Karnataka in 2018, VVPAT glitches resulted in machine replacement rates rising to 20% and 4%, respectively.
  • Glitches in the VVPAT machines were largely due to spooling issues in the print unit, which was sensitive to extreme weather.
  • Some hardware-related changes were introduced, which improved its functioning in the recent elections in five States
  • Machine replacement rates due to VVPAT failures came down to 1.89% for Chhattisgarh.
  • Deployment of improved machines should help curb glitches in the Lok Sabha elections.

Way Forward

  • Seeking a count of 50% of VVPAT slips seems to be way too much.
  • The focus should be on ending Electronic Voting Machine glitches.
Jan, 23, 2019

[pib] ECI reaffirms Non-Tamperability of EVMs

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: EVMs and VVPATs

Mains level: Feasibility of using EVMs and VVPATs amid allegations of tampering


News

  • In wake of rumours about EVMs tampering and manipulating, ECI rules out all such possibilities.

How are EVMs and VVPATs non-tamperable?

EVMs

  1. The ECI-EVMs are stand-alone machines designed to connect only amongst ECI-EVM units (Ballot Unit, Control Unit and VVPAT) through cables that remain in full public view.
  2. There is no mechanism in them to communicate with any device through wireless communication on any Radio Frequency.
  3. All their versions are regularly and rigorously tested against low to high wireless frequencies. These tests include and go beyond the standard tests specified for electronic equipments
  4. They are regularly tested for proper functioning under all kind of operating conditions.
  5. They are also regularly tested for code authentication and verification.

 VVPAT

  1. In the context alleging about the two side printing of VVPAT paper which allegedly retains lower tampered print while the front side print as verified by the voter, getting erased.
  2. VVPATs use thermal printers which can print only on one side of thermal paper.
  3. The print is fully visible through the viewing window.
  4. The paper rolls used in VVPATs have only one-sided thermal coating and hence can be printed only on one side.
  5. The VVPAT paper print lasts atleast for five years.

Verified by Manufacturers

  1. Bharat Electronics Limited and Electronics Corporation of India Limited, are the sole manufacturers of EVMs and now also VVPATs.
  2. They also reaffirmed that all the TEC prescribed Standard Operating Procedures are scrupulously adhered to and observed.
  3. It is however reiterated that while ECI-EVMs might malfunction sometimes like any other machine due to component failures and stop working, but even such a malfunctioning ECI-EVM would not record any vote incorrectly.
  4. It is reaffirmed that ECI-EVMs are not tamperable.
Jan, 22, 2019

[op-ed snap] Why EVMs must go

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance| Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures. Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the role of EVMs in elections.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues and challenges with EVMs in the conduct of free and fair elections, in a brief manner.


Context

  • As the General Elections in India are getting nearer, the debates regarding EVMs have also begun.
  • As per the reports, the recent Assembly elections — the last major polling exercise before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — were not devoid of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) malfunctions.

Background

  • At present makes the general debate makes no distinction between a ‘malfunction’ (which suggests a technical defect) and ‘tampering’ (manipulation aimed at fraud).
  • However, there were several reports of misbehaving EVMs.
  • In Madhya Pradesh alone, the number of votes polled did not match the number of votes counted in 204 out of the 230 constituencies.
  • The Election Commission’s (EC) explanation is that the votes counted is the actual number of votes polled — a circular logic that precludes cross-verification.

Electoral principles of a free and fair election: Transparency, Verifiability and Secrecy

  • The reason a nation chooses to be a democracy is that it gives moral legitimacy to the government.
  • The fount of this legitimacy is the people’s will.
  • The people’s will is expressed through the vote, anonymously (the principle of secret ballot).
  • Not only must this vote be recorded correctly and counted correctly, it must also be seen to be recorded correctly and counted correctly.
  • The recording and counting process must be accessible to, and verifiable by, the public.
  • A discrepancy of even one vote between votes polled and votes counted is unacceptable. This is not an unreasonably high standard but one followed by democracies worldwide.
  • Therefore transparency, verifiability, and secrecy are the three pillars of a free and fair election.

EVMs unable to satisfy three pillars of a free and fair election

  • Regardless of whether one is for or against EVMs, there is no getting away from the fact that any polling method must pass these three tests to claim legitimacy.
  • Paper ballots obviously do. The voter can visually confirm that her selection has been registered, the voting happens in secret, and the counting happens in front of her representative’s eyes.
  • However, EVMs fail on all three, as established by a definitive judgment of the German constitutional court in 2009. The court’s ruling forced the country to scrap EVMs and return to paper ballot.
  • Other technologically advanced nations such as the Netherlands and Ireland have also abandoned EVMs.

Concerns

(a) EVMs are neither transparent nor verifiable

  • Neither can the voter see her vote being recorded, nor can it be verified later whether the vote was recorded correctly.
  • What is verifiable is the total number of votes cast, not the choice expressed in each vote.
  • An electronic display of the voter’s selection may not be the same as the vote stored electronically in the machine’s memory.
  • This gap was why the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) was introduced.

VVPAT does not solve the problem either

  • However, VVPATs solve only one-half of the EVMs’ transparency/verifiability problem: the voting part.
  • The counting part remains an opaque operation.
  • If anyone suspects a counting error, there is no recourse since by definition an electronic recount is absurd. However, some believe the VVPATs can solve this problem too, through statistics.
  • At present, the EC’s VVPAT auditing is restricted to one randomly chosen polling booth per constituency.
  • However, experts have demonstrated that this sample size will fail to detect faulty EVMs 98-99% of the time.
  • They also shows that VVPATs can be an effective deterrent to fraud only on the condition that the detection of even one faulty EVM in a constituency must entail the VVPAT hand-counting of all the EVMs in that constituency.
  • Without this proviso, VVPATs would merely provide the sheen of integrity without its substance.

(b) Secrecy

  • Here too, EVMs disappoint. With the paper ballot, the EC could mix ballot papers from different booths before counting, so that voting preferences could not be connected to a given locality.
  • But with EVMs, we are back to booth-wise counting, which allows one to discern voting patterns and renders marginalised communities vulnerable to pressure.
  • Totaliser machines can remedy this, but the EC has shown no intent to adopt them.

So, on all three counts — transparency, verifiability and secrecy — EVMs are flawed. VVPATs are not the answer either, given the sheer magnitude of the logistical challenges.

Unjustified suspicions: EVMs continue to enjoy the confidence of the EC

  • The recent track record of EVMs indicates that the number of malfunctions in a national election will be high.
  • For that very reason, the EC is unlikely to adopt a policy of hand-counting all EVMs in constituencies where faulty machines are reported, as this might entail hand-counting on a scale that defeats the very purpose of EVMs.
  • And yet, this is a principle without which the use of VVPATs is meaningless.
  • Despite these issues, EVMs continue to enjoy the confidence of the EC, which insists that Indian EVMs, unlike the Western ones, are tamper-proof.
  • However, this is a matter of trust. Even if the software has been burnt into the microchip, neither the EC nor the voter knows for sure what software is running in a particular EVM. One has to simply trust the manufacturer and the EC.

Arguments made in favour of the EVM

  • Results come quicker and the process is cheaper: While it is true that the results come quicker and the process is cheaper with EVMs as compared to paper ballot, both these considerations are undeniably secondary to the integrity of the election.
  • Eliminates malpractices such as booth-capturing: EVM eliminates the malpractices such as booth-capturing and ballot-box stuffing. However, in the age of the smartphone, the opportunity costs of ballot-box-stuffing and the risk of exposure are prohibitively high.
  • In contrast, tampering with code could accomplish rigging on a scale unimaginable for booth-capturers.
  • Moreover, it is nearly impossible to detect EVM-tampering. As a result, suspicions of tampering in the tallying of votes — as opposed to malfunction in registering the votes, which alone is detectable — are destined to remain in the realm of speculation.

Way Forward

  • The absence of proven fraud might save the EVM for now, but its survival comes at a dangerous cost — the corrosion of people’s faith in the electoral process.
  • Yet there doesn’t have to be incontrovertible evidence of EVM-tampering for a nation to return to paper ballot.
  • The EC has always maintained that suspicions against EVMs are unjustified.
  • Clearly, the solution is not to dismiss EVM-sceptics as ignorant technophobes.
  • Rather, the EC is obliged to provide the people of India a polling process capable of refuting unjustified suspicion, as this is a basic requirement for democratic legitimacy, not an optional accessory.
Jan, 16, 2019

[op-ed snap] Why income inequality in India may be fuelling populist politics

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics aspects of income inequality in India.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the growing concern on income inequality in India and populist politics over it, in a brief manner.


Context

  • After Congress party promised a nationwide farm loan waiver if voted to power in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the ruling party is contemplating on a nationwide farm income support scheme.

Background

  • While the recourse to populism exposes the limited imagination of India’s political class, it also suggests an urgent redistributive urge in one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
  • This urge seems to be shaped by the growing concern on income inequality in India.

 Growing concern on income inequality in India

  • Data from the World Values Survey (WVS) shows that among large economies for which consistent time series data is available for the past two decades, India has seen the highest increase in the share of people who think that incomes should be made more equal in their country.
  • In 1989-93, barely 13% of Indian respondents said incomes should be made more equal.
  • By 2010-14, this figure had increased to 48%—the highest in the world.
  • The latest round of the WVS (2010-14) also asked respondents whether they thought “an essential characteristic of democracy is that the state should make incomes equal”.
  • Once again, India, along with Turkey, had the highest share of respondents (32%) who replied in the affirmative.
  • Thus, even before inequality became fashionable in the post-Piketty world, concern about inequality has been growing in the country.
  • One big reason for this is the country’s high levels of inequality.
  • Inequality in the country may not be as high as the French economist would have made us believe, but it is worryingly high.
  • Even household surveys, which are likely to underestimate inequality, present a disturbing picture of inequality in India.
  • Estimates of income inequality provided by the nationally representative India Human Development Survey (IHDS) suggest that income inequality is far higher than consumption inequality and is comparable to countries in Latin America, infamous for their high levels of inequality.

Estimates of growing inequality

  • The levels of wealth inequality are higher, data from the All India Debt and Investment Survey (AIDIS) analysed by the economists Ishan Anand and Anjana Thampi show.
  • Their estimates show that the top 1% in India accounted for nearly 28% of the country’s wealth in 2012, an increase of 11 percentage points since 1991.

Implications

  • The rise in income inequality also manifests itself in the slowdown in wages across industries.
  • Data from the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI) shows that wages of workers have lagged productivity growth even as managerial compensation has seen an impressive rise.
  • Over the past three decades, the wage share of net value added has been declining even as the profit share has been rising, the data shows.
  • In effect, the productivity growth in the industrial sector has benefited managers and owners far more than blue-collar workers.

Why upper castes tend to be more affluent?

  • Given that white-collar workers accounted for less than a sixth of the workforce over the past two decades according to the ASI data, the gains from higher productivity and growth seem to have accrued only to a small minority.
  • The distribution of such white-collar jobs is very unequal. Data from IHDS shows that it is the upper castes who account for a disproportionately high share of white-collar jobs.
  • It is not surprising, therefore, upper castes also tend to be more affluent compared to other social groups.
  • The key difference between upper castes and other social groups lies in their greater access to education.
  • The rising premium on education in India’s job market and the absence of any discrimination against them has meant that upper castes have been able to access well-paying jobs more easily compared to other social groups and have, in turn, been able to maintain their position on the socioeconomic ladder.

Way Forward

  • Research by a team of World Bank economists showed last year that despite the improvements in educational mobility in the country, India has one of the highest levels of inequality in access to education.
  • As the inequities in opportunities across the country do not receive the attention they deserve, politicians are able to sell their populist cards and get away with that.
Jan, 15, 2019

[pib] Voter Awareness Forums for promoting awareness on electoral process

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: VAF

Mains level: Voter Awareness


News

Voter Awareness Forums

  1. Voter Awareness Forums will be set up in Ministries, Government Departments, Non-Government Departments and other Institutions to promote electoral awareness.
  2. Voter Awareness Forums are informal Forums for generating awareness around electoral process through activities like discussions, quizzes, competitions and other engaging activities.
  3. VAF is part of the Electoral Literacy Club programme of ECI.

Electoral Literacy Club

  1. Launched on the 8thNational Voters Day, 25th January 2018, the ELC programme envisages setting up of Electoral Literacy Club in every educational institution.
  2. The ECI also aims to set up Chunav Pathshala at every booth to cover those outside the formal education system.
  3. The ELCs and Chunav Pathshala activities are conducted by the Convener using a resource Guide where step by step instructions are given for conducting each activity.
  4. Separate Resource books have been developed for Class IX, X, XI and XII.
  5. A calendar of activities in a year has also be indicated. Total of 6-8 activities, with specific learning outcome, running into approximately 4 hours in all, have been identified for each class.
Dec, 25, 2018

[op-ed snap] Implementing NOTA in the right spirit

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: NOTA option in elections

Mains level: Changes initiated in the election process by Maharashtra & Haryana Election commissions and need of replicating these across states


Context

NOTA provision

  1. In People’s Union For Civil Liberties v. Union Of India (September 27, 2013), the Supreme Court had ruled that a None of the Above (NOTA) option “may be provided in EVMs” so that voters are able to exercise their “right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy”
  2. On October 29 that year, the Election Commission of India (ECI) said that if a situation arose where the number of NOTA votes exceeded the number of votes polled by any of the candidates, the candidate with the highest number of votes would be declared the winner
  3. This, it said, was in accordance with Rule 64 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961
  4. This provision made the NOTA option almost redundant
  5. While it ensured confidentiality for a voter who did not want to choose any of the candidates and yet wished to exercise her franchise, the provision clarified that a NOTA vote would not have any impact on the election result, which is what interests candidates, political parties, and voters
  6. Soon after this, candidates began campaigning against NOTA, telling voters that choosing the option meant wasting a vote

SC view of NOTA

  1. The ECI seemed to have completely overlooked the spirit of the judgment, illustrated in the following excerpts
  2. For democracy to survive, it is essential that the best available men should be chosen as people’s representatives
  3. This can be best achieved through men of high moral and ethical values, who win the elections on a positive vote
  4. Thus, in a vibrant democracy, the voter must be given an opportunity to choose NOTA, which will compel the political parties to nominate a sound candidate
  5. Democracy is all about choice. This choice can be better expressed by giving the voters an opportunity to verbalize themselves unreservedly and by imposing least restrictions on their ability to make such a choice
  6. By providing a NOTA button in the EVMs, it will accelerate the effective political participation in the present state of the democratic system and the voters will be empowered
  7. When the political parties will realize that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates there will be a systemic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity

Changes at the state level started by ECI

  1. The State Election Commission (SEC) of Maharashtra was the first to understand the spirit of the judgment
  2. It issued a reasoned order on June 13 saying, “If it is noticed while counting, that NOTA has received the highest number of valid votes, then the said election for that particular seat shall be countermanded and fresh elections shall be held for such post.”
  3. This was commendable, but it stopped short of giving NOTA the teeth that the court wanted. It meant that the same candidates could contest the new election, which meant that the result could be the same as earlier
  4. The SEC of Haryana, in an order dated November 22, stated that if “all the contesting candidates individually receive lesser votes than NOTA,” then not only would “none of the contesting candidates be declared as elected,” but “all such contesting candidates who secured less votes than NOTA shall not be eligible to re-file the nomination/contest the re-election

Powers of State ECs

  1. The two SECs are within the ambit of the Constitution and various Supreme Court judgments to issue these orders for various reasons: they have powers identical to the ECI for elections that take place in their jurisdictions
  2. They have plenary powers to issue directions in areas related to the conduct of elections where there is no specific legislation, till such time as Parliament or the State Assembly enacts such legislation; and there is no specific legislation pertaining to NOTA

Way forward

  1. With two SECs showing the way, the remaining SECs and the ECI should follow suit so that political parties are compelled to nominate sound candidates, and are forced to accept the will of the people, as desired by the highest court in the land
Dec, 08, 2018

[op-ed snap] An invitation to corruption?

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency & accountability

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Electoral Bond Scheme

Mains level: Various flaws in the structure of EBS and the need for a transparent mode of electoral financing


Context

Electoral bonds scheme

  1. Early this year the government introduced an Electoral Bond Scheme purportedly with a view to cleansing the prevailing culture of political sponsorship
  2. But there are many grey areas in this because when there is no ceiling on party expenditure and the EC (Election Commission) cannot monitor it, how can one be sure that what is coming in is not black money as there is a secrecy of the donor

Working of the scheme

  1. In its present form, the scheme permits not only individuals and body corporates but also “every artificial juridical person,” to purchase bonds, issued by the State Bank of India, in denominations of ₹1,000, ₹10,000, ₹lakh, ₹10 lakh and ₹1 crore, during specified periods of the year
  2. Issued in the form of promissory notes, once a bond is purchased the buyer can donate it to any political party, which can then encash it on demand

Flaws in the functioning

  1. The government claims that since these bonds are purchased through banking channels the scheme will eliminate the infusion of black money into electoral funding
  2. But this argument palpably false, as a simple reading of the scheme’s terms shows us that the programme also virtually endorses corruption in political funding
  3. The scheme allows for complete anonymity of the donor
  4. Neither the purchaser of the bond nor the political party receiving the donation is mandated to disclose the donor’s identity
  5. Therefore, not only will the shareholders of a corporation be unaware of the company’s contributions, but the voters too will have no idea of how, and through whom, a political party has been funded
  6. The programme removes an existing condition that had prohibited companies from donating anything more than 7.5% of their average net-profit over the previous three years
  7. This now means that even loss-making entities can make unlimited contributions
  8. Additionally, the requirement that a corporation ought to have been in existence for at least three years before it could make donations — a system that was meant to stop shell concerns from being created with a view purely to syphoning money into politics — has also been removed

Petition in SC highlighting problems of the scheme

  1. As petitions filed in the Supreme Court point out, the scheme suffers from at least two foundational defects
  2. One, that it was incorporated on the back of a series of amendments made to legislation, including the Representation of the People Act, the Income Tax Act and the Companies Act, which were introduced in the form of a money bill
  3. And two, that the scheme flouts a number of fundamental rights

Not a money bill

  1. Article 110 of the Constitution allows the Speaker to classify a proposed legislation as a money bill, only when the draft law deals with all or any of the subjects enlisted in the provision
  2. These subjects comprise a set of seven features, including items such as the imposition of a tax, the regulation of the borrowing of money by the government, the custody of the Consolidated Fund of India, the appropriation of money out of the consolidated fund, and any matter incidental to the subjects explicitly mentioned in Article 110
  3. It’s impossible to see how the provisions pertaining to the electoral bond scheme could possibly fall within any of these categories
  4. The Finance Act, through which these amendments were introduced, therefore did not deal with only those matters contained in Article 110

Violation of Fundamental Rights

  1. The scheme is equally destructive in its subversion of the fundamental rights to equality and freedom of expression
  2. There’s no doubt that the Constitution does not contain an explicitly enforceable right to vote
  3. But implicit in its guarantees of equality and free speech is a right to knowledge and information
  4. Our courts have nearly consistently seen “freedom of voting” as distinct from the right to vote, as a facet of the right to freedom of expression and as an essential condition of political equality
  5. In the absence of complete knowledge about the identities of those funding the various different parties, it’s difficult to conceive how a citizen can meaningfully participate in political and public life

Impact on democracy

  1. The institutionalising of equality through the principle of one person one vote, and through the creation of the universal adult franchise, was critical to building India’s republican structure
  2. When the power of that vote is diluted through opacity in political funding, democracy as a whole loses its intrinsic value

Way forward

  1. Prima facie it appears the scheme cannot really deliver whatever it was intended to
  2. The Electoral Bond Scheme inhibits the citizen’s capacity to meaningfully participate in political and public life
Nov, 22, 2018

[op-ed snap] The post and the person: on strengthening the EC

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions & responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ECI- functioning, appointments and powers

Mains level: Role of judiciary in electoral reforms in India and the need for more reforms in the functioning of ECI


Context

PIL challenging ECI appointments process

  1. The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is examining a public interest litigation (PIL) that could be critical for Indian democracy
  2. The PIL, which seeks the strengthening of the Election Commission of India (ECI), includes a proposal to create an independent mechanism to appoint the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs) who are, at present, simply appointed by the government of the day, without any defined criteria or processes

How was ECI built?

When the Constituent Assembly debated how free and fair elections should be ensured, three important questions arose

  • The first was whether free and fair elections should be made a part of fundamental rights or an independent institution, outside the executive, should be established to conduct the elections
  1. The Assembly opted for the latter and created the ECI
  2. With legal back up and the resources to develop and enforce a transparent electoral system, the ECI made free and fair elections a reality
  • The second critical decision was to have a single, centralised body for elections to the Lok Sabha and State legislatures
  1. One proposal was that the ECI be confined to federal elections, and separate institutions be set up to conduct elections to State legislatures
  2. However, with increasing tension among communities, the Assembly feared partisan action in the States and opted for a single national institution, the ECI
  3. The implications of this decision were complex
  4. On the one hand, Central institutions have generally been more robust than State institutions
  5. For example, State Election Commissions lack autonomy, are short on manpower and funds and are frequently subject to attempts by State governments to manipulate elections
  6. On the other, this decision could have led to an autocratic institution being established and possibly manipulated by powerful national actors
  7. But this possibility was contained because elections became subject to judicial review
  8. The ECI itself recommended that election petitions be heard by the judiciary instead of tribunals set up by the ECI, and in 1966, the law was changed accordingly
  • The third question concerned ensuring the independence of the ECI
  1. The constituent assembly provided simply for the CEC to be appointed by the President, leaving it to the legislature to enact a suitable law, which never happened
  2. The Constituent Assembly did provide, though, that the CEC could only be removed through impeachment
  3. For the ECs, even this safeguard was not provided, which is also a subject of the above-mentioned PIL
  4. The history of elections shows that this remains a major shortcoming of the ECI

Impact of this provision

  1. From 1967 to 1991, the election process deteriorated as the Congress lost its dominance, political competition intensified, and political actors stepped up violence and electoral malpractices
  2. The ECI could not arrest this deterioration
  3. Several State governments made large-scale transfers on the eve of elections and posted pliable officials in key positions, who sometimes flouted the ECI’s orders

Imprvements in the functioning

  1. This deterioration could have continued. Instead, during the 1996 general election, the ECI restored the credibility of the election process
  2. The CEC, T.N. Seshan, reinterpreted the ECI’s role and powers and provided combative, forceful leadership
  3. He publicly reprimanded politicians for violating the Model Code of Conduct, postponed/ cancelled elections if their credibility was compromised, intensified supervision of elections, and insisted on action against errant officials
  4. Because of constitutional safeguards, he could not be removed
  5. But the ECI got the right leadership accidentally, not by design

Way forward

  1. Though the ECI has since become an institution of some authority, there have been controversies over appointments of ECs, allegations of partisanship, and new problems such as of voter bribery and paid news, which the ECI has not been able to address so far
  2. As history shows, inadequate leadership is the bane of our public institutions
  3. Safeguards to ensure that ethical and capable people head them are crucial
Nov, 08, 2018

EC issues order on poll expenses

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Citizens charters, transparency & accountability & institutional & other measures

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Election Expenditure

Mains level: De-criminalization of Politics


News

Addition in Poll Expenditure

  1. Recently the Supreme Court has directed the Contesting Candidates to publicize information about the criminal cases against a candidate.
  2. The costs incurred on this publication will be counted as part of poll expenditure, according to the Election Commission.
  3. The expenses will be borne by the candidate and the political parties.
  4. This being an expenditure made in connection with the election, if expense is incurred in this regard, the same will be counted for the purposes of election.

Expenditure Caps

  1. There is no limit on the party election expenditure.
  2. For Assembly polls, the cap on expenses by the candidates is between ₹20 lakh to ₹28 lakh.

Revised status

  1. The EC said that the FIR cases essentially have to be given publicity.
  2. If after filing the nomination, the status of the criminal case changes, it will be open to the candidate to notify the revised status to the Returning Officer and publish the revised status.
  3. Separate formats have been specified by the Commission for the candidates and the political parties.
Oct, 29, 2018

[pib] Electoral Bond Scheme 2018

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Citizens charters, transparency & accountability & institutional & other measures

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: EBS 2018

Mains level: Funding to political parties


News

EBS 2018

  1. Union govt. has notified the Electoral Bond Scheme 2018.
  2. As per provisions of the Scheme, Electoral Bonds may be purchased by a person who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India.
  3. A person being an individual can buy Electoral Bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals.
  4. Only the Political Parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and which secured not less than one per cent of the votes polled in the last General Election to the House of the People or the Legislative Assembly of the State, shall be eligible to receive the Electoral Bonds.
  5. It will be available in multiples of Rs1,000, Rs10,000, Rs1 lakh, Rs10 lakh and Rs1 crore.
  6. The Electoral Bonds shall be encashed by an eligible Political Party only through a Bank account with the Authorized Bank.
  7. State Bank of India (SBI) has been authorised to issue and encash Electoral Bonds through its 29 Authorised Branches.

Terms and Conditions

  1. It may be noted that Electoral Bonds shall be valid for fifteen calendar days from the date of issue.
  2. No payment shall be made to any payee Political Party if the Electoral Bond is deposited after expiry of the validity period.
  3. The Electoral Bond deposited by an eligible Political Party in its account shall be credited on the same day.
Oct, 10, 2018

[pib] Section 151A of the Representation of the People Act 1951

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Indian Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Representation of People Act, 1951

Mains level: Process of Bye-Elections in India


News

Context

  1. It is understood that some newspapers have reported that the ECI on the one hand announced the bye elections to fill the three casual vacancies in Lok Sabha from Karnataka.
  2. While the bye elections to fill five vacancies in Lok Sabha from Andhra Pradesh has not been announced by ECI.

Logic behind ECs move

  1. As the vacancies from Karnataka have occurred more than one year before the expiration of the term of House, bye elections are required to be held.
  2. In the case of vacancies from Andhra Pradesh, there is no need to hold bye elections as the remaining term of the Lok Sabha is less than one year from the date of occurrence of vacancies.

Section 151A of R.P. Act, 1951

  1. Section 151A of the RP Act mandates the EC to fill the casual vacancies in the Houses of Parliament and State Legislatures.
  2. A bye-election for filling any vacancy referred to in any of the said sections shall be held within a period of six months from the date of the occurrence of the vacancy:
  3. Provided that nothing contained in this section shall apply if—
  • The remainder of the term of a member in relation to a vacancy is less than one year; or
  • The Election Commission in consultation with the Central Government certifies that it is difficult to hold the bye-election within the said period.
Oct, 01, 2018

MCC to kick in right after premature dissolution of Assembly: EC

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the Model Code of Conduct

Mains level: Read the attached story.


News

MCC in Telangana

  1. The Election Commission has issued an order on the enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct from the date a state dissolves its Assembly and seeks early elections in Telangana.
  2. Telangana CM K.C. Rao has recommended dissolution of the House to avoid possible clubbing of the Assembly elections in the state with Lok Sabha elections.

In context of SR Bommai Case

  1. The EC issued the order keeping the Supreme Court’s observation in S R Bommai Vs Union of India (1994) case.
  2. It said neither the caretaker state government nor the central government shall announce any new schemes and projects in respect of the state or undertake any of the activities prohibited under the Part-VII of the MCC.
  3. The EC said in case of premature dissolution of legislative assembly, the provisions of Part-VII (Party in Power) of the MCC shall come into operation with immediate effect in the state concerned.
  4. The MCC shall continue to be in force till the completion of the election to constitute the new legislative assembly.

Back2Basics

Model Code of Conduct

  1. The MCC is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India for conduct of political parties and candidates during elections.
  2. It is mainly regulated with respect to speeches, polling day, polling booths, election manifestos, processions and general conduct.
  3. These set of norms has been evolved with the consensus of political parties who have consented to abide by the principles embodied in the said code in its letter and spirit.
  4. MCC comes into force immediately on announcement of the election schedule by the commission for the need of ensuring free and fair elections.

Highlights of the Codes

  1. Government bodies are not to participate in any recruitment process during the electoral process.
  2. The contesting candidates and their campaigners must respect the home life of their rivals and should not disturb them by holding road shows or demonstrations in front of their houses. The code tells the candidates to keep it.
  3. The election campaign rallies and road shows must not hinder the road traffic.
  4. Candidates are asked to refrain from distributing liquor to voters. It is a widely known fact in India that during election campaigning, liquor may be distributed to the voters.
  5. The election code in force hinders the government or ruling party leaders from launching new welfare programmes like construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities etc. or any ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
  6. The code instructs that public spaces like meeting grounds, helipads, government guest houses and bungalows should be equally shared among the contesting candidates. These public spaces should not be monopolized by a few candidates.
  7. On polling day, all party candidates should cooperate with the poll-duty officials at the voting booths for an orderly voting process.
  8. Candidates should not display their election symbols near and around the poll booths on the polling day. No one should enter the booths without a valid pass from the Election Commission.
  9. There will be poll observers to whom any complaints can be reported or submitted.
  10. The ruling party should not use its seat of power for the campaign purposes.
  11. The ruling party ministers should not make any ad-hoc appointment of officials, which may influence the voters in favour of the party in power.
  12. Before using loud speakers during their poll campaigning, candidates and political parties must obtain permission or license from the local authorities.
  13. The candidates should inform the local police for conducting election rallies to enable the police authorities to make required security arrangements.

For further reading on MCC, navigate to this page:

Model Code of Conduct: Evolution, Enforcement, Effects, Legal Status

Sep, 29, 2018

[op-ed snap] Court’s lost chance

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Representation of People Act, 1951

Mains level: Legislative’s lax attitude on enacting a law to decriminalise politics in India and role played by the judiciary in various electoral reforms related to the same


Context

SC verdict on decriminalisation of politics

  1. The Supreme Court has delivered its much-awaited pronouncement on the petitions asking it to bar politicians facing heinous criminal charges — like rape, murder and kidnapping — from contesting elections
  2. A five-judge bench led by Chief Justice said that the Court cannot play the role of Parliament
  3. The judgment left much to be desired

Role of judiciary and EC in democracy

  1. The judiciary can be called as the guardian angel of democracy
  2. This time, the SC has passed the buck to the EC, even though the Commission has been crying itself hoarse for the apex court’s aid for the past two decades

Directives by SC

  1. First, while filing their nominations, the candidates must declare if there are pending criminal cases against them in courts
  2. Second, political parties are also responsible for putting up details of criminal cases filed against their candidates on their websites
  3. Third, Parliament must legislate on the matter to ensure that candidates with criminal antecedents do not enter public life or become lawmakers
  4. Fourth, while filling the nomination forms, candidates must declare their criminal past and the cases pending against them in bold letters
  5. Fifth, political parties should publicise the background of their candidates via the electronic media and issue declarations

Flaws in the directives

  1. The recommendations have practical issues
  2. Parliament, regardless of who is in power, has always been reluctant to legislate on the issue
  3. Voters do not generally read the websites of political parties
  4. The recommendation regarding publicity campaigns about the criminal background of candidates by political parties sounds counter-intuitive. Why would they actively publicise anything that goes against their interests

Ban on convicted politicians but not undertrials

  1. Section 8 of the Representation of People Act, 1951, bans convicted politicians
  2. But those facing trial, no matter how serious the charges, are free to contest elections
  3. The political parties are united in their opposition to any law, which debars perpetrators of heinous offences during the pendency of cases
  4. They hold that this could lead to wrong cases being filed against candidates

EC’s proposals to avoid wrongful conviction

  1. First, all criminal cases will not invite a ban, only the heinous offences will do
  2. Second, the case should be registered at least six months before the elections
  3. Third, the court must have framed the charges

Opposition to EC’s proposals

  1. The opponents of the EC proposal have time and again stated that the candidates and the legislators are deemed “innocent until proven guilty”
  2. An argument can be raised about the 2.7 lakh undertrials, not yet convicted and hence innocent, but locked up in jails
  3. Four of their fundamental rights stand suspended — liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of occupation and the right to dignity
  4. If the rights of those undertrials can be suspended within the ambit of the law, what is the sanctity of the candidates’ right to contest elections — only a statutory right, and not a fundamental one?

No word on fast track courts

  1. The Court has not said a word on the provision of fast track courts for such cases though the issue is entirely in its domain
  2. Fast-tracking has been the accepted norm
  3. Many categories of special courts such as the CBI courts, consumer courts and, more recently, fast-track courts for rape cases do create special categories for the purpose of adjudication, and nobody has dubbed them as discriminatory
  4. The Representation of People Act also recognises this in principle, requiring the high courts to decide on election petitions within six months
  5. In a March 2014 SC judgment, the court had accepted the urgent need for cleansing politics and directed all subordinate courts to give their verdict on cases involving legislators within a year or give reasons for not doing so to the chief justice of the high court
  6. Progress in this matter has not been reviewed

Way Forward

  1. The present verdict seems a missed opportunity by the Supreme Court, especially when seen in the light of the nation’s fight for free, fair and clean elections
  2. Judicial activism has been at the root of some of the most groundbreaking reforms in India’s democratic history
  3. The doctrine of separation of powers has to be seen in the light of the need for checks and balances
  4. When the executive and legislature are unwilling to do their job, the judiciary must step in on behalf of the citizens
Sep, 26, 2018

[op-ed snap] The Supreme Court can’t stop criminal politicians

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Section 124A, 499 & 500 of IPC

Mains level: Public Interest Foundation & Ors. versus Union of India judgment and its ramifications on decriminalisation of politics in India


Context

SC verdict on decriminalisation of politics

  1. There is a tangled relationship between political effectiveness and criminal strength in Indian politics
  2. The Supreme Court (SC) was never going to be able to untangle this knot
  3. In its Public Interest Foundation & Ors. versus Union of India & Anr. judgement SC has wisely recognized this
  4. Any judicial attempt to broaden the criteria for membership of Parliament beyond the constitutional provisions laid out from Article 102(1)(a) to 102(1)(d) would have been disastrous on multiple fronts

Reasoning behind the judgment

  1. There are numerous Indian laws that have no place in a modern republic
  2. These range from Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalizing sedition to Sections 499 and 500 recognizing criminal defamation
  3. The Indian state—no matter the party in power—has used and abused these laws with abandon
  4. It should not be handed the tools to lock inconvenient individuals out of the political process
  5. This is what disqualifying citizens from contesting elections at any stage of a criminal process prior to conviction would amount to

Directives by SC

  1. The SC has limited itself to mandating that all candidates contesting an election publicise any criminal cases pending against them to the party and to the public at large
  2. The court assumes that the problem is one of an information gap for voters

Is the SC mandate enough?

  1. The SC had mandated disclosure of criminals’ antecedents in 2003
  2. Despite this increase in public awareness, the proportion of members of Parliament facing criminal charges and criminal charges of a serious nature, respectively, grew from 24% and 12% in 2004 to 30% and 15% in 2009 and 34% and 21% in 2014
  3. Indeed, a candidate facing a criminal case was thrice as likely to win in these elections as one without

Reasons for the criminalisation of politics

  1. At the heart of politics is the rational principal-agent relationship
  2. The public agent—the political candidate is not a perfect agent, immune to his own interests and those of the lobbies of several private agents who can put pressure on him
  3. The principal— the voting public has its own rational interests
  4. The trick is building institutions that hold out the promise of the right payoffs within the law
  5.  In India, the wrong rules and institutions, along with historical happenstance, have ensured that the rational quest for payoffs leads politicians and voters outside the law

Changes that led to illegal money in politics

  1. When Indira Gandhi banned corporate campaign financing in 1969, she simultaneously destroyed her party’s local power centres in an attempt to centralize authority
  2. This ensured that the Congress lacked the ability to raise sufficient funds and had to rely more heavily on illegal money
  3. . The subsequent warping of Lohiaite politics, paired with state institutions that lacked the capacity to deliver public goods and services, meant that it was in voters’ interests to vote along caste lines for in-group strongmen who could deliver public goods and services to them—and resources to political parties

Way Forward

  1. Political parties will rarely introduce governance reforms when the payoffs are bigger for not doing so
  2. But sustaining economic growth is difficult without improving state capabilities and capacities
  3. Developed economies with lower levels of corruption have undergone the process of cleansing at various historical junctures
  4. This was not a result of a change in people, but mainly because the rules which were implemented that created a specific pay-off system
Sep, 26, 2018

Enact strong laws to cleanse Politics: Supreme Court

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies & interventions for development in various sectors & issues arising out of their design & implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: NN Vohra Committee, Read B2B

Mains level: Measures to decriminalize politics in India.


News

Cleansing Politics

  1. The Supreme Court has directed political parties to publish online the pending criminal cases of their candidates.
  2. The court countered the government’s submissions that under the Representation of the People Act, only convicted lawmakers can be disqualified and not accused ones.

Onus on Parliament

  1. The court directed Parliament to frame a law that makes it obligatory for political parties to remove leaders charged with “heinous and grievous” crimes and refuse ticket to offenders in all elections.
  2. The Bench however made it clear that it cannot legislate for Parliament by introducing disqualification to ban candidates facing trial for heinous crimes from contesting elections.

Full disclosures

  1. The court directed that candidates should disclose their criminal past to the EC in “block letters.”
  2. Candidates should make a full disclosure of the criminal cases pending against them to the political parties under whose banner they intend to contest the polls.
  3. The parties, in turn, should put up the complete details of their candidates on their websites for public consumption.
  4. Further, both the candidate and the political party should declare the criminal antecedents of the former in widely-circulated newspapers.
  5. Finally, both the candidate and the political party should give “wide publicity” to the criminal record of the former by airing it on TV channels, not once, but thrice after the filing of nomination papers.

Why such move?

  1. It ensures that ordinary voters can have an “informed choice” about who he or she has to vote for in a country which already feels agonised when money and muscle power become the supreme power.
  2. The best available people, as is expected by the democratic system, should not have criminal antecedents and the voters have a right to know about their antecedents, assets and other aspect.

Criminals Nexus- Running a Parallel Govt.

  1. The court referred to how the N.N. Vohra Committee, which was set up following a public outcry after the 1993 Mumbai blasts after its study of the problem of criminalization of politics and their nexus with officials.
  2. The committee had concluded that agencies, including the CBI, IB, RAW, had unanimously expressed their opinion that the criminal network was virtually running a parallel government.

Need for new Law

  1. The ECI has its hands tied, helplessly watching as criminalization of politics at the entry level is on the rise.
  2. A person is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty and nothing prevents an accused, who won an election on public mandate, from becoming a lawmaker.
  3. The court said the danger of false cases foisted on candidates can be addressed by the parliament in the new law.

Way Forward

  1. Criminalization of politics and corruption, especially at the entry level of elections, has become a national and economic terror.
  2. The directions to political parties to go public about the criminal cases against their candidates are a step to foster and nurture an informed citizenry.
  3. Disclosure of antecedents makes the election a fair one and the exercise of the right of voting by the electorate also gets sanctified.
  4. It is to protect the culture and purity in politics.

Back2Basics

Bane of Criminal Politics in India

  1. The Law Commission of India, in its 244th report, succinctly put it that instead of politicians having suspected links to criminal networks, as was the case earlier, it was persons with extensive criminal backgrounds who began entering politics.
  2. The Law Commission said that in the 10 years since 2004, 18% of the candidates contesting either national or State elections had criminal cases against them (11,063 out of 62,847).
  3. The Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms, as early as in 1990, highlighted the crippling effect of money and muscle power in elections.
Sep, 25, 2018

Publishing poll candidate’s propaganda is paid news: Election Commission

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  Legal Provisions for disqualification mentioned in newscard.

Mains level: Paid-news debate in India.


News

Paid News vs. Free Speech

  1. Repeated publication of propaganda lauding the achievements of a candidate in an election is nothing but “paid news”, the Election Commission of India has told the apex Court.
  2. Politicians cannot say that it is part of their fundamental right to free speech to spew out “motivated propaganda”.
  3. The EC has asked the court to declare whether it amounts to “paid news” if widely circulated daily newspapers cover statements issued by, and in the name of, a candidate.
  4. Such news are not only laudatory of his or her record and achievements but also are a direct appeal to voters by the candidate.

Unequal advantage

  1. If such motivated propaganda is allowed in the name of free speech during the election period, candidates with a strong network of connections will exploit their sphere of influence in society.
  2. This will have the unequal advantage of encashing such silent services.
  3. The commission has moved the court in appeal against a decision of the Delhi High Court to set aside the disqualification of a MP in Madhya Pradesh.
  4. ECI’s National Level Committee on Paid News found that five newspapers, with a wide circulation, had published 42 news items that were biased and one-sided and aimed at furthering the prospects of the leader.
  5. Some of the reports were advertisements in favour of him. The committee concluded that the items fitted the definition of “paid news”.

Way Forward

  1. The conduct of the eager supporters, whose extensive coverage, as in this case, being dubbed as freedom of expression cannot be termed news.
  2. This is so because ‘news’ is expected to be unbiased and characterized by dispassionate coverage and proportionate space to other contenders.
  3. If the court shut its eye to this case, “the assertion of freedom of speech would become a stock pretence or plea by the service provider and the beneficiary candidate”.
Sep, 05, 2018

Google to help EC track online political ads

Note4Students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ECI mechanisms to monitor election expenditure.

Mains level: Bringing transparency in the process of election campaigning and expenditure.


News

Eye on Online Ads

  1. Google will soon be helping the Election Commission (EC) keep tabs on online political advertising.
  2. It will develop a mechanism that will not only ensure pre-certification of political advertisements but also enable it to share with the authority, details about the expenditure incurred on its platforms.
  3. A committee has been set up to explore possible modifications in Section 126 (election silence) and other provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 in view of the expansion and diversity of media platforms.

Keeping an eye on Election Expenditures

  1. Google will keep track of political advertisements and ensure that they are pre-certified by the EC’s Media Certification and Monitoring Committees.
  2. This would entail Google asking prospective clients, whenever an order is placed, whether they have been pre-certified.
  3. Google has also assured that it would set up a mechanism for sharing information on the cost of the political advertisements.
  4. The ECI is the nodal body for pre-certification of advertisements of a political nature, released by either an individual or an organisation.
  5. This would be of use to Returning Officers when it comes to calculating the election expenditure of individual candidates.

Present Mechanism

  1. The ECI asks the candidates to declare their official social media accounts.
  2. As soon as someone is declared a candidate for any election, all the money spent by the person for campaigning gets added as election expenditure.

Facebook tools

  1. The EC’s committee has agreed with Facebook to develop tools for removing any content related to election matters during the 48-hour period when the ‘prohibition protocol’ is in place.
  2. It is working on ways to check fake news and share details of expenditure on poll-related advertisements.
  3. During the Karnataka Assembly polls, Facebook tied up with the Indian fact-checking agency, Boom Live, which confirmed over 50 cases of fake news.
Aug, 25, 2018

Poll panel to brainstorm on key issues

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Diverse range of issues need to be addressed before the upcoming general election. These issues are summarized in the newscard very decently.


News

Context

  1. Recently Chief Election Commissioner emphatically ruled out the possibility of holding simultaneous elections to the state assemblies along with the Lok Sabha poll.
  2. However ECI has brought to notice range of issues to various political parties and invited a debate over them.

Various issues and forthcoming Elections

  1. In the times of social media and phased elections, how can campaign silence be maintained during the last 48 hours before the elections?
  2. The Election Commission will be debating this and seven other issues, including limiting of expenditure and increasing participation of women, at a multi-party meeting.
  3. All seven registered national political parties and 51 State political parties have been invited.

Last 48 hours campaigning under radar

  1. The law prohibits canvassing during the last 48 hours before the elections.
  2. This is meant to create an environment of neutrality and “silence” for the voter to exercise his franchise through reasoned reflection rather than be swayed by last-minute appeals by parties and candidates.
  3. The ECI has sought suggestions on how to address the issue of online canvassing to promote or prejudice the electoral prospects of a party/candidate on social media during the last 48 hours.
  4. Many parties in opposition have been consistently asking this question in view of the extensive campaigning on the ground and on social media ahead of each election.

Adding print media

  1. The ECI has asked the parties if the print media should also be brought within the ambit of Section 126(1)(b).
  2. This section lists mediums in which display of election matter is prohibited and includes television, cinematograph or similar apparatus of the Representation of the People Act.

Election Expenditure

  1. The ECI has asked political parties on whether there should be a ceiling on party election expenditure. The present election laws only provide a limit on a candidate’s expenditure.
  2. It has proposed that such ceiling should be either 50% of or not more than the expenditure ceiling limit provided for the candidate multiplied by the number of candidates of the party contesting the election.
  3. The Commission wants to know the views of political parties on bringing a ceiling for expenditure in the Legislative Council elections.
  4. In these elections, huge amounts of unaccounted-for money are often spent by the candidates.

Mainstreaming Migrant Voters

  1. The Commission has asked the parties to take note of alternative modes of voting for domestic migrants and absentee voters, such as postal, proxy and e-voting.
  2. The Commission has proposed five strategies, the agenda note says, to ensure that no migrant worker is left out.
  3. These include developing portability of voting rights by linking voter ID and Aadhaar.
  4. A one-time voluntary registration system for domestic migrants, electoral support services to be provided to migrants at the source and destination areas, raising awareness of voters’ rights and a helpline for domestic migrants are the other measures suggested by the Commission.

Increasing Women’s Representation

  1. The ECI has asked what measures can political parties undertake to encourage enhanced representation of women within the organisation structure of the political party.
  2. It has pulled out embarrassing statistics to build the case for a greater presence of women.
  3. There are only 11.4% women in the 16th Lok Sabha, substantially lower than the global average of 22.9%, the Commission noted.
  4. It has said that at least seven countries have laws reserving seats for women in legislature, including Nepal.
Aug, 23, 2018

SC moots steps to clean up politics

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  Legal Provisions for disqualification mentioned in newscard

Mains level: De-criminalizing politics in India


News

Parties must declare antecedents

  1. The Supreme Court proposed to make political parties accountable for criminalizing politics by welcoming in crooks who may later win elections on party ticket and grab power.
  2. The Constitution Bench led by CJI suggested it could direct the EC to insist that parties get new members to declare in an affidavit their criminal antecedents and publish them.
  3. This will enable citizens to know how many criminals (charged) there are in a party.
  4. The court demonstrated that the EC could de-register a party or withdraw its symbol if it refused to comply.

Present Mechanism

  1. The court is hearing a batch of petitions to ban persons charged with heinous criminal charges from contesting elections.
  2. The law presently bars only convicted persons from fighting elections or continuing as law makers. A person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
  3. The Bench has been steadfast during the past days that it cannot legislate and change the written law.

Argument against the Proposal

  1. A political party has a right to field its candidate.
  2. Mere charges of having committed a crime cannot be used to prevent a person from contesting elections.
  3. The person may have done excellent work for his constituency and the people want to vote for him and the courts suggestion amounts to prematurely disqualifying a candidate.

SC directive

  1. Political party should incorporate a clause in your membership form requiring a member to file an affidavit disclosing his criminal antecedents.
  2. Then party will publish it. If not, party may face de-registration by the Election Commission.
  3. Thus, it is as an alternative measure that the Bench suggested making the political party accountable for giving memberships to persons with a criminal record.

Legal Provisions for disqualification

  1. The Bench based its proposal on the power of the ECI to conduct an election and register/de-register political parties under Article 324 of the Constitution and Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act of 1951, respectively.
  2. The court invoked The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order of 1968 to clothe the Commission with the power to withdraw a reserved party symbol.
  3. Chief Justice Misra pointed to how Section 29A requires a political party to swear to uphold the principles of socialism, secularism, democracy, sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.
Aug, 22, 2018

SC scraps NOTA option for RS polls

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: NOTA option

Mains level: Reforms in election process


News

The SC scraps NOTA

  1. The Supreme Court scrapped the use of NOTA (none of the above) option for Rajya Sabha polls, saying it would usher back the “Satan of defections.”
  2. A Bench, led by CJI held that the option is meant only for universal adult suffrage and direct elections and not elections held by the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote as done in the Rajya Sabha.
  3. The option of NOTA may serve best in direct elections but in the election to the Council of States, it would not only undermine the purity of democracy but also serve the Satan of defection and corruption.

Why is NOTA Counterproductive?

  1. The court pointed out that in the voting in Rajya Sabha elections, there is a whip and the elector is bound to obey the command of the party.
  2. The court observed that while NOTA option looks attractive in Rajya Sabha polls, it actually harms an electoral process where open ballot is permissible and party discipline reigns.
  3. Moreover where the elector’s vote has value and the value of the vote is transferable.
  4. The party discipline in this kind of election is of extreme significance, for that is the fulcrum of the existence of parties.
  5. The Court held that NOTA in an indirect election would not only run counter to the discipline expected from an elector under the Tenth Schedule but also be “counterproductive to the basic grammar of the law of disqualification on the ground of defection.”
  6. NOTA will destroy the concept of value of a vote and representation and encourage defection that shall open the doors for corruption which is a malignant disorder.
  7. This have the effect of overriding the provisions of Article 80(4) — proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote, the provisions of Representation of People Act 1951 and the Conduct of Election Rules 1961.
Aug, 13, 2018

Bill to allow proxy voting by NRIs passed by Lok Sabha

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the Bill

Mains level:  Importance of overseas Indian voters in Election


News

Context

  1. A bill to extend the facility of ‘proxy voting’ to overseas Indians, on the lines of service voters, was passed by the Lok Sabha.
  2. Proxy is not a negated word. It is now a legal and defined word.
  3. The Bill was passed by a voice vote in the Lower House, proposes that overseas Indians, who are entitled to vote in India, could now appoint a proxy voter to cast their votes.

Proxy Voting Bill

  1. As of now, overseas Indians were free to cast their votes in the constituencies where they were registered.
  2. The Bill seeks to give them the option of proxy voting, which until now was only available to service personnel.
  3. According to estimates of the Ministry of External Affairs, there are about 10 crore NRIs living in different countries across the world.

Preventing Misuse

  1. While framing the rules, the government will ensure that the system of proxy voting is not misused by anyone.
  2. On the issue of allowing migrant workers to vote without having to travel to their place of residence, Prasad said it was “work in progress our sympathies are with them they should be given the right to vote.” Some members demanded that the facility of postal ballots to be extended to them.
  3. Provision for e-voting has several difficulties in implementing in a large country like India due to security concerns.

Reducing travel expenses

  1. Unofficial data with EC shows that only 10,000 to 12,000 overseas voters have exercised their franchise because they do not want to spend foreign currency to come to India and vote.
  2. The necessary provision of coming to India to cast ballot caused hardship for overseas electors.

Provision related to Spouses of Service Voters

  1. As of now, an army man’s wife is entitled to be enrolled as a service voter, but a woman army officer’s husband is not, according to the provisions in the electoral law.
  2. The bill proposes to replace the term ‘wife’ with ‘spouse’, thus making the provision gender neutral.
  3. Members of the armed forces, central armed police forces, personnel of state police forces posted outside their state and employees of the centre posted outside India are eligible to be enrolled as service voters.

Concerns with the Bill

  1. This facility could be misused by political parties by persuading the proxies appointed by the NRIs.
  2. The foreign missions attempts to elections of India by distributing literature to influence the voting pattern in favour of the ruling party.
  3. There should be e-voting for NRIs to prevent misuse.
  4. As regards migrant workers provisions should be made to allow them to vote at their place of residence.
  5. It could lead to vote to trade.
Jul, 11, 2018

[op-ed snap] Simultaneous elections are a bad idea

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Simultaneous election is a hot topic of discussion these days.


News

The idea is gaining traction: Forthcoming General Elections

  1. A paper put out by NITI Aayog argued in favour of the proposal of simultaneous elections.
  2. More recently, the Law Commission invited political parties to a consultation on the simultaneous elections proposal.
  3. The most attractive argument in favour of simultaneous elections is the allure of the phrase, “one nation, one election”

Arguments in Favour

It was suggested that imposing a uniform calendar on elections for the Centre and the states and holding these synchronized elections every five years would involve:

  • Saving money and administrative expense,
  • Avoid “policy paralysis” caused by elections constantly being fought somewhere or
  • Other issues under the Election Commission’s model code of conduct.

No match with GST Rationale

  1. This matches the “one nation, one tax” rationale for the goods and services tax (GST), which, of course, came into force via its own constitutional amendment on 1 July 2017
  2. Simultaneous elections would sweep away the messiness of a nation always in election mode and replace it with the tidiness of elections everywhere, every five years, like clockwork
  3. “One nation, one election” would make sense if India were a unitary state. But we are a union of states, which is philosophically and politically an essentially different conception of the Indian nation-state

Why can election calendar not be synchronous with Centre?

  1. A government may choose to dissolve itself, or a government may fall if its loses its majority, and then the governor, acting on behalf of the president of the republic, will be obliged either to ask another combine to form a government, or must perforce call fresh elections.
  2. Keeping a hung assembly in a state of suspended animation while the governor rules the state, presumably under guidance from the Centre, until the next predetermined election date rolls around, is nothing other than anti-democratic in spirit.
  3. Suppose a Union government loses its majority within the middle of a fixed five-year electoral cycle. The normal course of events would be for either a new government to be formed, or for fresh elections if that is not possible.
  4. Now, if instead, we have president’s rule for the duration of the five-year period under the advice of a council of ministers drawn presumably from the now-defunct Lok Sabha and the still functioning Rajya Sabha will lead to constitutional oligarchy.

Threat to federal structure

  1. Apart from these philosophical considerations, a move to have simultaneous elections threatens the federal character of our democracy at a more practical level.
  2. It gives pole position to large national parties, such as the current or previous governing party, which govern and campaign at the Centre and in most if not all states.
  3. These parties would reap the economies of scale of one large election every five years, to the disadvantage of regional parties which campaign for Lok Sabha and assembly elections only in their own states.
  4. Likewise, in a single big election, national issues would tend to come to the fore and drown out issues of regional interest.
  5. The latter would presumably dominate an assembly election, which occurs organically rather than one forced to fit the Procrustean bed of a single national election.

Way Forward

  1. In sum, “one nation, one election” will only serve the interests of those bent on further centralization of an already overly centralized union.
  2. It will do a grave disservice to the federal character of our union as envisaged by the founders.
Jul, 04, 2018

[pib] Election Commission of India launches “cVIGIL” Mobile App

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Everything about the cVIGIL app

Mains level: Reforms in the electoral system. 


News

cVIGIL Mobile App

  1. “cVIGIL” is a user-friendly and easy to operate Android application to report MCC violations during elections.
  2. Upon successful completion of the trial that is underway, the application will be made available for general use by all, right from the forthcoming Assembly elections in the States of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan.
  3. The practical use of the app during these Assembly polls will serve as pilot initiative before it is put to extensive use during the 2019 General Elections.

Working of the App

  1. cVIGIL will allow anyone in the election-bound state to report violations of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) that comes into effect from the date of announcement of elections and goes on till a day after the polls.
  2. By using this app, citizens can immediately report on incidents of misconduct within minutes of having witnessed them and without having to rush to the office of the returning officer to lodge a complaint.
  3. The vigilant citizen has to click a picture or record a video of up to two minutes’ duration of the scene of violations of the model code. The photo or video is to be uploaded on the app.
  4. The automated location mapping will be done by the app using the Geographic Information System.
  5. After its successful submission through the app, the vigilant citizen gets a Unique ID to track and receive the follow-up updates on her or his mobile.
  6. A citizen can report many incidents in this manner and will get a unique id for each report for follow up updates. The identity of the complainant will be kept confidential.

Redressal of the Citizens complaint

  1. Once the complaint is lodged, the information beeps in the District Control Room from where it is assigned to a Field Unit.
  2. A field unit consists of Flying Squads, Static Surveillance Teams, Reserve teams etc.
  3. Each Field Unit will have a GIS-based mobile application called ‘cVIGIL Dispatcher’, which allows the unit to directly reach the location through navigation technology and take action.
  4. If the incident is found correct, the information is sent to the National Grievance Portal of the Election Commission of India for further action and the vigilant citizen is informed about the action taken within a hundred minutes.

No Fake complaints allowed

  1. The app has inbuilt features to prevent its misuse. It will receive complaints only about Model Code of Conduct violations.
  2. The user will get 5 minutes to report an incident after having clicked a picture or a video.
  3. To prevent any misuse, the app will not allow uploading of the pre-recorded or old images and videos.
  4. The app will not facilitate the saving of the photos or videos recorded using the ‘cVIGIL’ app into the phone gallery either.
  5. Further, the application will be active only in States where elections have been announced. The moment a citizen exits an election-bound State, the app will become inactive.

Way Forward- Filling all gaps

  1. So far, the complaints about violations of Model Code of Conduct often could not be followed instantly, leading to the violators escaping detection from the action squads.
  2. Also, the lack of any documented evidence in the form of pictures or videos was seen as a hurdle in verifying a complaint.
  3. Further, the absence of a robust response system to quickly and accurately identify the scene of occurrence of violations with the help of geographical location details hampered election officers’ ability to apprehend the violators.
  4. The new app is expected to fill in all these gaps and create a fast-track complaint reception and redressal system.
Jul, 03, 2018

[pib] ECI to hold a National Consultation on Accessible Elections

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SVEEP

Mains level: The newscard talks about measure to ensure participation of PwDs in Electoral process. 


News

Elections to be accessible for PwDs

  1. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has organized “National Consultation on Accessible Elections,”
  2. The event is a part of the ECI’s pursuit of its mission ‘leave no voter behind’ with special focus on “Persons with Disabilities” (PwD).
  3. During the inaugural session, a dedicated portal for the ECI’s ‘Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation’ (SVEEP) initiative will also be launched.
  4. They are aimed at identifying the barriers or gaps in the inclusion of PwD’s in the electoral process, to assess the existing accessibility initiatives and to find solutions for the challenges being faced by the PwD’s.
  5. The whole exercise is to enhance their participation in the forthcoming state and Lok Sabha elections.
  6. The theme of “Inclusion of PwD’s” has been given a special focus in the ECI’s Strategic Plan 2016-2025.
  7. Besides, “Accessible Elections” has been adopted as its central theme for this year’s National Voters’ Day celebrations (25th Jan)

Back2Basics

Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP)

  1. SVEEP is a programme of multi interventions through different modes and media designed to educate citizens, electors and voters about the electoral process in order to increase their awareness and participation in the electoral processes
  2. SVEEP is designed according to the socio-economic, cultural and demographic profile of the state as well as the history of electoral participation in previous rounds of elections and learning thereof
  3. Now it includes enhanced interaction with the citizens through social media, online contests and voters’ festivals; awareness about new initiatives of linking EPIC with AADHAAR and National Voters’ Service Portal and a regularised yearly plan of activities
  4. In addition to target groups of women, youth, urban voters and the marginalized sections, the inclusion of groups like service voters, NRIs, persons with disabilities, prospective voters/ students is of primary focus
Jun, 13, 2018

[op-ed snap] Polls Are Best Kept Apart

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic Structure Doctrine, EMS Nachiappan Committee on Simultaneous Elections, Standing Committee,  Representation of Peoples’ Act 1951

Mains level: The editorial highlights the unconstitutionality of the demand of Simultaneous Elections


Context

  1. PM has mooted the idea of holding simultaneous polls in the country.
  2. The step may appear to be purely reformist but in reality, it’s an unconstitutional measure and should not be pushed down the throats of people.

Misconceptions about the ease of Amendment for Simultaneous Elections

  1. There is a misconception that an amendment to the Representation of Peoples’s Act 1951 is all that is needed for holding simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies.
  2. If the Law Ministry were to attempt such an endeavour, it will realise the hollowness of the concept.

Basic Structure Doctrine at risk

  1. Apart from the basic structure, the federal structure of the polity — itself a part of the basic structure — will collapse if an amendment to the Representation of People’s Act is approved by Parliament.
  2. The Election Commission agrees to undertake the huge exercise but the agency cannot hold elections in even three states without dividing the process into as many as seven phases

Report of the Standing Committee of Parliament, headed by E M S Nachiappan

  1. Holding simultaneous elections may not be feasible in 2016 or even in a decade.
  2. The committee, however, expressed confidence that a solution will be found to reduce the frequency of elections and relieve the people and government machinery from tedium of frequent polls.
  3. This is important for India if it is to compete with other nations in its developmental agenda.
  4. However, this committee did not touch issues pertaining to the basic structure of the Constitution.

The Way Forward: Presidents Call on the Issue

  1. President Kovind recently said that frequent elections not only impose a burden on human resources but also impede the development process due to the promulgation of Model Code of Conduct.
  2. He called for a sustained debate is required on the subject of simultaneous elections and all political parties need to arrive at a consensus on this issue.
Jun, 07, 2018

[pib] Election Commission Of India Launches its online RTI Portal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the Online Portal

Mains level:  Step towards ensuring fare elections and election related grievances redressal


News

Online RTI portal for ECI

  1. The portal can be accessed by general public on the Home Page of the Commission’s website `eci.nic.in’ by clicking on `Online RTI’. 
  2. There is also online payment gateway for making payment of requisite fees under the RTI Act. 
  3. The portal also facilitates online reply to applications and also for making first appeal and reply thereto. 
  4. There will be timely notification alerts to RTI applicant via SMS and E-Mail.

Offline Mode to continue

  1. The online RTI applications made in the past in the Portal of DOPT were downloaded and all such applications barring a few have been disposed of by giving suitable reply to the applicants. 
  2. The remaining applications and First Appeals will be disposed of shortly
May, 31, 2018

[op-ed snap] Paper chase: Faults in VVPAT system

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: The newscard discusses the reasoning against the use of VVPAT in elections.


News

Context

  1. The high incidence of glitches in the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines in the recent by-elections should be a major cause of concern for the Election Commission of India
  2. The Election Commission must review the use of paper trail machines in the polling process

Issues with the VVPAT

  1. Ever since the implementation of the VVPAT system last year, machine malfunction and subsequent delays in polling have been recurring issues
  2. The ECI has suggested that these machines were more prone to malfunctioning due to their sensitivity to extreme weather conditions and exposure to light
  3. It also blamed the relative inexperience of polling officers handling them, compared to the ballot and control units for the electronic voting machines (EVMs) that have been in use for much longer

Background

  1. The VVPAT was added to the EVM to audit the voter tallies stored in the machine
  2. Its universal implementation began in the Goa Assembly polls in 2017
  3. The implementation was deemed necessary as many political parties complained about the possible hacking of EVMs
  4. These complaints lacked any basis, but the VVPAT implementation was hastened to bring back trust in the election process

The VVPAT system has added complexities

  1. The use of these machines has added to the complexity of an otherwise simple, single programmable-chip based system
  2. And rendered it prone to more glitches

No need of VVPAT system

  1. There is enough empirical evidence to show that EVMs have eased polling and helped increase voter turnout since being put to use
  2. But in using VVPAT machines to reassure sceptics about an election’s integrity, the ECI has introduced a new element, and cost, to the process
  3. Considering these challenges, the ECI should consider deploying the VVPAT machines in a limited, statistically significant, randomly chosen set of polling booths
  4. This will reduce the possibility of glitches affecting the polling process as well-tested machines could be deployed (with enough replacements also handy) to such booths
May, 23, 2018

EC to launch app to help voters share malpractice proof

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the App

Mains level: Steps for assuring free and fair elections


News

Model Code of Conduct Violation Reporting App

  1. The Election Commission will launch a multi-lingual mobile application empowering people across the country to share evidence of malpractice by political parties, their candidates and activists ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, directly with the electoral body
  2. The application helps prevent abuse of money and muscle power, allows for sharing of photos and short audio and video clips from the spot itself along with geolocation
  3. Through this mechanism, EC intends to encourage larger public participation in checking corrupt practices and ensuring a free and fair election process

Recent trials

  1. Such an application was made available for the first time in Bengaluru in the run-up to the recently concluded Karnataka Assembly polls
  2. As part of the implementation, the application will also be made operational in the coming Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh

Tackling social media

  1. The growing abuse of social media bots for influencing public opinion has emerged as another major challenge for the Election Commission and plans are on to devise a counter mechanism
  2. These bots are automated accounts often active on popular social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, which use Artificial Intelligence to trigger and influence political debates with an objective to shape public opinion.
  3. A social media cell is already functional in order to address such challenges in the cyber world
Apr, 26, 2018

Centre opposes plea for same process for removal of CEC and ECs

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions & responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Article 324 of the Constitution, Appointments to Election commission

Mains level: Issues related to the independent functioning of Election commission


News

Ensuring security of tenure for ECs

  1. The Centre has opposed a plea to make changes in the law to ensure that Election Commissioners are removed in the same manner as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC)
  2. It also said that while the CEC was a permanent functionary whose appointment is mandated by Article 324 of the Constitution, ECs may or may not be appointed based on the needs of the Election Commission and that this was to be decided by the President

Current provisions

  1. While the CEC can be removed only in the same manner as a judge, the ECs can be removed only on the recommendation of the CEC

SC judgment related to this issue

  1. In the 1995 case of T N Seshan vs Union of India, SC upheld the Constitutional provision which provides for different modes for removal of the CEC and the ECs
Apr, 24, 2018

[pib] Electoral Bond Scheme 2018

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Electoral Bond Scheme, Representation of the People Act, 1951

Mains level: Measures taken to ensure free and fair elections in India


News:

  • Government of India has notified the Electoral Bond Scheme 2018 on January 2018.
  • The Electoral Bonds may be purchased by a person, who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India.
  • A person being an individual can buy Electoral Bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals. 
  • Only the Political Parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (43 of 1951) and which secured not less than one per cent of the votes polled in the last General Election to the House of the People or the Legislative Assembly of the State, shall be eligible to receive the Electoral Bonds.
  • The Electoral Bonds shall be encashed by an eligible Political Party only through a Bank account with the Authorized Bank.
  • State Bank of India (SBI), in the 3rd phase of sale, has been authorized to issue and encash Electoral Bonds through its 11 Authorised Branches
Apr, 21, 2018

[op-ed snap] Mission impossible: Simultaneous Elections

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Read the attached story

Mains level: The government is seriously considering the option of simultaneous elections. The newscard explains why this idea is not feasible.


News

Law commission recommendations on simultaneous elections

  1. The Commission has released a three-page summary of its draft working paper, setting out the amendments that may be required in the Constitution and electoral laws
  2. It proposes to put together a report to forward to the Centre after getting the views of the public
  3. It also suggests that premature dissolution of the House could be avoided if all members sit together and elect a leader
  4. This would entail a temporary waiver of the anti-defection law so that members could help form a stable government without the fear of disqualification
  5. However, these are reforms that can be adopted even if simultaneous elections are not held

Why is simultaneous elections a good idea?

  1. In principle, simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies have the benefits of saving poll expenditure
  2. And helping ruling parties focus on governance instead of being constantly in election mode

The idea of simultaneous elections is nearly impossible

  1. It is nearly impossible to implement simultaneous elections,
  2. as it would mean arbitrarily curtailing or extending the term of existing legislatures to bring their election dates in line with the due date for the rest of the country
  3. This would be the most difficult change to execute, as such a measure would undermine federalism as well as representative democracy

Solutions suggested by the Law Commission

  1. The Commission has suggested an alternative: categorise States based on proximity to the next general election, and have one round of State Assembly polls with the next Lok Sabha election, and another round for the remaining States 30 months later
  2. This would mean that India would have a set of elections every two and a half years
    But the solutions may not be feasible
  3. Because governments have been brought down or have collapsed on their own, leading to mid-term polls in different States and even at the Centre in different years
  4. Given the difficulties involved in shifting to simultaneous elections, we may have to live with the reality that some part of the country will go to polls every few months
Apr, 18, 2018

Law Commission for simultaneous polls

Note4studenta

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the Law commission

Mains level: Recommendations given by the Law Commission


News

Recommendation of the Law Commission

  1. It recommends that in 2019, the election could be held in phases
  2. In the first phase, it says, elections to the legislatures which are scheduled to go for polls synchronous with the Lok Sabha in 2019 could be held together
  3. The rest of the States could go to elections in proximity with the Lok Sabha elections of 2024
    Relaxation: anti-defection law
  4. It even suggests the relaxation of the “rigours” of the anti-defection law in the Tenth Schedule to prevent a stalemate in the Lok Sabha or Assemblies in case of a hung Parliament or Assembly
  5. The panel says that in case of mid-term elections, the new Lok Sabha or Assembly would only serve the remainder of the term of the previous Lok Sabha/Assembly and not a fresh term of five years
    Go for constitutional amendments
  6. The commission says the Centre should get the Constitutional amendments, if agreed upon, to be ratified by all the States so as to avoid any challenge to them
  7. It also says that the Prime Minister/Chief Minister should be “elected” to lead by the full House like the Lok Sabha Speaker

Major raodblock to simultaneous elections

  1. Citing no-confidence motion and premature dissolution of House as major roadblocks to simultaneous elections, the commission says the parties which introduce the no-confidence motion should simultaneously give a suggestion for an alternative government

Back2basics

Law Commission of India

  1. Law Commission of India is an executive body established by an order of the Government of India
  2. Its major function is to work for legal reform
  3. Its membership primarily comprises legal experts, who are entrusted a mandate by the Government
  4. The Commission is established for a fixed tenure and works as an advisory body to the Ministry of Law and Justice
  5. Justice Balbir Singh Chauhan, a former judge of the Supreme Court was appointed Chairman of the 21st Law Commission on 10 March
  6. This post was lying vacant since September 2015. 66-year old Justice Chauhan is currently heading the Cauvery River Water Disputes Tribunal
  7. One of the key issues pending before the Law Commission is a call on amending the Indian Penal Code (IPC) amid allegations of abuse and arbitrary use of the law
Apr, 13, 2018

Give us power to make poll rules, EC tells SC

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Election Commission of India, Article 324, Representation of the People Act 1950 & 1951

Mains level: Issues related to the autonomy of Election commission


News

Seeking amendment in the Constitutional provisions

  1. Election Commission of India (EC) has sought an amendment in the Constitutional provisions seeking protection for election commissioners from being removed by the chief election commissioner
  2. ECI explained that Article 324 was inadequate and requires an amendment to provide the very same protection and safeguard in the matter of removability of Election Commissioners from office as is available to the CEC

Power to make rules

  1. EC has also sought power to make rules under the electoral law, instead of the Centre
  2. Rulemaking authority under the Representation of the People Act 1950 and Representation of the People Act, 1951 currently vests with the Central government
Apr, 09, 2018

EC to take a call on electoral bonds soon

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Election Commission, electoral bonds

Mains level: Election funding in India and related issues


News

Taking a fresh view of the electoral bonds

  1. The Election Commission will soon take a fresh view of the electoral bonds after analyzing the terms of the government notification and the outcome of two rounds of their sales

Why such move?

  1. Information about the value of bonds in the first round of sales was not reported directly to the Election Commission
  2. The government disclosed it in the Lok Sabha in response to the question from an MP

Is it mandatory to disclose information about election funding to EC?

  1. The amendment to Section 29C of the Representation of the People Act has made it no longer mandatory for the parties to report the details of donations received through the bonds
  2. As per Section 29C(1) of The Representation of People Act, 1951, the political party needs to disclose the details of non-governmental corporations and persons who donate more than Rs. 20,000 to it in a financial year

Back2Basics

Electoral bonds

  1. Electoral Bond is a financial instrument for making donations to political parties
  2. These are issued by Scheduled Commercial banks upon authorization from the Central Government to intending donors, but only against cheque and digital payments (it cannot be purchased by paying cash)
  3. Electoral Bonds would have a life of only 15 days during which it can be used for making donation only to the political parties registered under section 29A of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 and which secured not less than one percent of the votes polled in the last general election to the House of the People or a Legislative Assembly
  4. The Electoral Bonds under the Scheme shall be available for purchase for a period of 10 days each in the months of January, April, July, and October, as may be specified by the Central Government
Mar, 31, 2018

[pib] Electoral Bond Scheme 2018

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Electoral Bonds, Representation of the People Act, 1951

Mains level: Reforms for ensuring transparency in political funding


News

  • Electoral Bonds may be purchased by a person, who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India.
  • A person being an individual can buy Electoral Bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals.
  • Only the Political Parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (43 of 1951) and which secured not less than one percent of the votes polled in the last General Election to the House of the People or the Legislative Assembly of the State, shall be eligible to receive the Electoral Bonds.
  • The Electoral Bonds shall be encashed by an eligible Political Party only through a Bank account with the Authorized Bank.

Guidelines for sale:

  • State Bank of India (SBI) has been authorized to issue and encash Electoral Bonds through its 11 Authorised Branches
  • Electoral Bonds shall be valid for fifteen days from the date of issue and no payment shall be made to any payee Political Party if the Electoral Bond is deposited after the expiry of the validity period
  • The Electoral Bond deposited by an eligible Political Party in its account shall be credited on the same day
Mar, 21, 2018

[op-ed snap] The unfinished agenda of electoral reforms

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The newscard briefly discusses some important transparency issues related to the Finance Bill 2018.


News

Main issue related to the Finance Bill 2018

  1. In 2014, the Delhi high court found both the BJP and the Congress guilty of having accepted donations from a foreign company, in breach of FCRA 2010
  2. So, last year, the Finance Bill sought to modify the definition of a “foreign company”, which potentially renders the guilty verdict as null and void
  3. But that still left open the possibility of a breach of the older law, which was in force till 2010
  4. So, to eliminate any culpability on that count, Finance Bill 2018 simply backdated the amendment to 5 August 1976
  5. This is classic retrospective amendment trickery, which the present government had forsworn

No action on suggestions given by the Chief Election Commissioners (CEC)

  1. The CEC wrote a letter with details of desirable electoral reforms to the then prime minister in July 2004
  2. That had a list of 22 actionable items which required parliamentary action
  3. But no action resulted
  4. Again in December 2016, the CEC compiled another list, incorporating the old one, and requested Parliament to enact reforms

Institutional issues

  1. Clean politics requires clean funding, and clean candidates
  2. This cannot be ensured by the EC alone
  3. Even the expenditure limits for candidates are prescribed by Parliament, and not by the EC
  4. The data for past several elections, both national and state-level, shows that candidates barely spend 50% of the permissible limit
  5. But clearly a lot of money does flow during elections, and if it not reported, it is illegal and unaccountable by definition

India is not the only country facing the same issues

  1. The issue of cleaning up of campaign finance is global and almost every democracy is struggling with it
  2. But India is far behind global benchmarks, imperfect as they may be
  3. For instance, parties in India so far have even resisted coming under the ambit of Right to Information law

The way forward

  1. With the Finance Bill retrospective amendment, even foreigners may be able to fund politics in India, who knows
  2. Just when the US is grappling with allegations of foreigners “hacking” their presidential elections, India seems to have enabled this
  3. Therefore, we should seriously consider the issues discussed above
Feb, 21, 2018

[op-ed snap] For cleaner, fairer elections

Image Source

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Electoral Bonds

Mains level: The newscard briefly discusses the issue of party(political) funding. It also discusses some important court cases regarding electoral reforms.


News

Electoral reforms through the Supreme Court

  1. The Supreme Court has readily stepped in to introduce electoral reforms
  2. However, most of these interventions are directed at candidates, and rarely at the parties
    Lok Prahari v. Union of India:
  3. The Supreme Court’s recent decision on information disclosure paves a way for future constitutional interventions in India’s party funding regime, including the scheme of electoral bonds
    Association for Democratic Reforms v. Union of India (ADR):
  4. In 2002, the Supreme Court mandated the disclosure of information relating to criminal antecedents, educational qualification, and personal assets of a candidate contesting elections
  5. Now, the court has extended the disclosure obligation to further include information relating to sources of income of candidates and their “associates”

Voters’ right to know about their candidate

  1. The principled basis of the court’s decision is that voters’ right to know about their candidate is an extension of their freedom of expression
  2. Voters cannot be said to have freely expressed themselves (by voting) without having appropriate information about the candidates

Information on party funding

  1. Indian voter is deprived of information related to party funding
  2. The provision of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 exempts political parties from disclosing the source of any contribution below Rs. 20,000
  3. This gives political parties a convenient loophole to hide their funding sources by breaking contributions into smaller sums, even Rs. 19,999 each
  4. As a result, a vast majority of donations to political parties come from sources unknown to voters

Is the information about party funding relevant for a voter in choosing a candidate?

  1. Upholding the constitutionality of disclosure requirements for funding sources in Buckley v. Valeo , the U.S. Supreme Court held, “The sources of a candidate’s financial support also alert the voter to the interests to which a candidate is most likely to be responsive”

However, even if one assumes that parties do not fund their candidates, there is another rationale for disclosure of party-funding sources

  1. Parties occupy a special space in India when it comes to agenda setting
  2. By virtue of a strong anti-defection law in India, all elected legislators are bound by their party agenda
Feb, 13, 2018

Supreme Court: How can convict be office-bearer of party?

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Representation of People’s Act

Mains level: Corruption in politics and ways to reduce it


News

Rationale behind allowing a convicted person to form a political party

  1. The Supreme Court has questioned the rationale behind allowing a convicted person to form a political party
  2. Under the existing law, a convicted legislator cannot contest elections for six years

SC questions

  1. How can a convicted person be an office-bearer of a political party and select candidates to contest elections?
  2. It is that what you cannot do individually, you can do collectively through some of your agents

Against SC judgments

  1. This goes against SC judgments that corruption in politics is to be ostracised for the purity of elections
  2. On the contention that people have a right to form associations, SC said they can form an association to establish a school, but when they are in the field of governance, it matters

EC’s affidavit

  1. In its affidavit, the EC said it had earlier proposed to the government that the present law should be amended
  2. It should provide that any person accused of an offense punishable by imprisonment for five years or more should be disqualified from contesting elections even while trial is pending, provided the court has framed charges against him
  3. The commission also sought powers to de-register a political party and to be able to issue orders regulating registration and de-recognition of parties
Feb, 05, 2018

[op-ed snap] Out Of My Mind: All together now

Image Source

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Simultaneous election is a hot topic of discussion these days. It is important to know about both sides of the story, complement this newscard with one of our previous newscards on the same issue(but presenting a different view) [op-ed snap] Should India have simultaneous elections?


News

Main issue in having Simultaneous Elections

  1. The difficulties are well-known
  2. A government holds office as long as it enjoys the confidence of the elected chamber
  3. If it loses that confidence and the Opposition cannot form another government which can win confidence, then new elections have to be held
  4. And therefore, simultaneous elections are impossible as of now
  5. Some Constitutional amendments will be required(not possible in current political circumstances)

The Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) of the UK

  1. In the UK, the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) was passed during the coalition government of 2010-15
  2. Between 1945 and 2010, a British government had ruled for full five years only five times
  3. The Act made removing a government mid-term difficult by setting a high threshold for a no-confidence motion to be passed as well as for the prime minister to dissolve parliament
  4. These kind of restrictions can be useful in India
  5. As it makes makes frivolous no-confidence motions or dissolution of Parliament difficult
  6. If simultaneous elections are to be held in India, some such device will be necessary

Difficulties in having Simultaneous Elections
The difficulty is two-fold:

FIRST

  1. The idea that simultaneous elections should be held has the hidden assumption that it is the Prime Minister who will have the ultimate authority
  2. The proposal, as of now, does not bind the Prime Minister to a strict five-year cycle
  3. In a federation with a written Constitution (unlike the UK), this involves a huge shift of power to the Centre and to the incumbent Prime Minister
  4. It would require not just a constitutional amendment but perhaps a constitutional convention with representation from the Centre and all the states to decide the matter

SECOND

  1. If a state government becomes unpopular, it may need to be dismissed
  2. If there is FTPA but the Opposition secures the necessary majority, then the winning party has to agree to serve only the remainder of the term or President’s Rule has to be imposed
    Some unanswered questions
  3. But what if the government at the Centre loses a vote of confidence?
  4. Does the Opposition form a government for the remainder of the term?
  5. Or do we have new simultaneous elections?
Feb, 02, 2018

[op-ed snap] Should India have simultaneous elections?

Image Source

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Simultaneous election is a hot topic of discussion these days.


News

Benefits of holding simultaneous elections

  1. Holding simultaneous elections will ensure consistency, continuity and governance
  2. As continuity, consistency and governance are integral to democracy

How can it be done?

  1. Implementing simultaneous polls would require a substantial shift from the status quo
  2. And would involve amendments to the Constitution and election-related laws
  3. We have done this in case of the GST
  4. Earlier, tax collections were separate for the Centre and the States
  5. We have changed this now

Main concern

  1. In terms of governance and implementation of development programmes, enforcing the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is detrimental
  2. If we are preoccupied with local body elections and Assembly elections throughout the year, where is the time for developmental work?
  3. If we are occupied with different elections throughout the year, where is the time for developmental work, with the MCC kicking in every time these elections are held?

Simultaneous elections can help in curbing corruption

  1. Simultaneous elections can also be a means to curb corruption and build a more conducive socio-economic ecosystem
  2. While the Election Commission’s efforts to curb illicit finances are laudable, elections continue to be a conduit for black money and corruption

Simultaneous elections are a huge burden on resources

  1. Security personnel and government officials are effectively put on election duty for many months in a yea
  2. A case in point is the recurring engagement of teachers for election duty, as a result of which students suffer
  3. The cost of elections runs into thousands of crores and has been rising steadily

The way forward

  1. Holding simultaneous elections is not merely about elections; it is about stable governance
  2. Such a sensitive and far-reaching reform requires unanimous support from all political parties
Jan, 31, 2018

EC unlikely to reiterate demand for contempt powers

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Contempt of Courts Act

Mains level: Powers available to Election commission through various provisions


News

Demand for contempt power by EC

  1. The Election Commission is unlikely to reiterate its demand for powers to initiate contempt proceedings
  2. This was to be done against people and parties for making allegations against it without credible evidence

Background

  1. In a letter in April, the Commission had urged the law ministry to amend the election laws so that it could use the ‘Contempt of Courts’ Act against such parties
  2. It had pointed out that several election management bodies, including those in Kenya and Pakistan, have “direct powers” to initiate contempt proceedings

Government refusal for granting any such power

  1. Government has told the poll panel that it won’t be appropriate to grant contempt powers
  2. It may be inconsistent with the law laid down by the Supreme Court
  3. The government had recently told Parliament that the EC’s demand was examined from legal and constitutional angles
  4. The Law Ministry had also taken into account judicial pronouncements in this regard
Jan, 29, 2018

[op-ed snap] A vote for state funding

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Right to Information (RTI) Act, Central Information Commission, Electoral bonds, Indrajit Gupta Committee

Mains level: State funding of elections


Context

Election expenditures in India

  1. Indian elections are the world’s biggest exercise in democracy but also among the most expensive
  2. Corporate donations constitute the main source of election funding in India which is awash with black money
  3. In 2008, using the provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Central Information Commission allowed disclosure of income tax returns of political parties

International best practices

  1. Many countries have partial or full public funding or transparent regulation and financial accountability of political finance
  2. The USA is one such example

Electoral bonds do not ensure transparency

  1. A transparent method of funding political parties is vital to the system of free and fair elections
  2. The concern for transparency in political funding is at complete odds with the electoral bonds scheme notified by the government
  3. Anybody can buy electoral bonds in the form of bearer bonds from specified branches of the State Bank of India and donate it anonymously to a political party of their choice
  4. All donations given to a party will be accounted for in the balance sheets but without exposing the donor details to the public
  5. The Election Commission (EC), the Income Tax department and the voter would remain in the dark about this donation

Why is this a cause for concern?

  1. Bonds will allow corporate houses to make anonymous donations through banking channels to the party of their choice
  2. This would lead to further opacity in the funding process and further limit oversight and accountability
  3. Opacity of election funding is an area of existential concern for democracies
  4. Anonymity is the very wellspring of institutionalised corruption
  5. Also, the bonds scheme imposes no restrictions on the quantum of corporate donations
  6. Electoral bonds will result in unlimited and undeclared funds going to certain political parties

Provisions that will lead to further misuse of electoral bonds

  1. The maximum limit of 7.5% on the proportion of the profits a company can donate to a political party has been lifted
  2. This opens up the possibility of shell companies being set up specifically to fund parties
  3. Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) has been amended to allow foreign funding to political parties
  4. Political parties have refused to come under the RTI Act in order to conceal their sources of funding
  5. All of these together will end up strengthening the business-politics nexus

Not as per recommendations for electoral reforms

  1. It goes against the position taken by various electoral reform committees that the existing pattern of political funding encourages lobbying and capture of the government by big donors
  2. The bond scheme could provide a backdoor to corporates and other lobbies for shaping public policy to benefit their interests
  3. Policy decisions of political parties and politicians after being elected may be biased in favour of groups that fund them

Reform proposals to reduce high cost of elections

  1. Strong disclosure norms
  2. Strict statutory limits on election expenses and
  3. Ceiling on corporate donations to political parties

Way forward

  1. State funding of elections (in various forms) is a potential solution to this problem
  2. The Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections had endorsed partial state funding of recognised political parties and their candidates in elections way back in 1998
Jan, 23, 2018

EC pulled up for backing simultaneous polls

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Powers, functions & responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Standing Committee, Election Commission

Mains level: Debate on simultaneous elections (A question was asked in Mains 2017 on this topic)


News

EC does not have the mandate to decide the issue

  1. The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice discussed electoral reforms
  2. Lawmakers questioned the Election Commission about its recent statements endorsing simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies, saying it does not have the mandate to decide the issue

How will simultaneous election process decided?

  1. Constitution needs to be amended in order to facilitate simultaneous elections
  2. A constitutional amendment would have to be cleared by both Houses of Parliament
  3. It would have to be ratified by the Assemblies of half of the States
  4. The other way was for all Assemblies and the Union government to agree to the plan voluntarily

Back2Basics

Standing Committee

  1. In the Indian Parliament, a Standing committee is a committee consisting of Members of Parliament
  2. It is a permanent and regular committee which is constituted from time to time according to the provisions of an Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business
  3. The work done by the Indian Parliament is not only voluminous but also of a complex nature, hence a great deal of its work is carried out in these Parliamentary Committees
  4. Both Houses of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, and Lok Sabha have similar Committee structures with a few exceptions
  5. These standing committees are elected or appointed every year, or periodically by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha or the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, or as a result of consultation between them
  6. Important committees are the Committee on Estimates, the Committee on Public Accounts, the Committee on Public Undertakings and DRSCs
  7. These committees play an important role in exercising a check over governmental expenditure and Policy formulation
Jan, 20, 2018

EC recommends disqualification of AAP MLAs: Past instances of ‘office of profit’ cases

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Parliament & State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges & issues arising out of these.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Election Commission, Office of Profit, Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill, 2006

Mains level: Provisions related to qualification and disqualifications of legislators


News

20 MLAs of Delhi Assembly disqualified

  1. The Election Commission has recommended to the President the disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs of Delhi Assembly on charges of holding an ‘Office of Profit
  2. The 20 AAP legislators have been accused of being unconstitutionally appointed as parliamentary secretaries to aid various ministers of the Delhi government
  3. The president is bound to act on advice of Election commission

Office of Profit according to constitution

  1. As per the Constitution, the ‘Office of Profit’ bars MP and MLAs from accepting government positions carrying some financial remuneration or any other benefit such as office space or even a car
  2. Any violation of this provision would amount to disqualification of the legislator
  3.  The aim of this provision is to preserve the independence of the legislature by keeping its members away from any temptations from the executive

Past Judicial pronouncements related to office of profit

These say there are two indispensable ingredients of an office of profit

  • There should be an office and
  • The office should carry some profit
  1. In U.C.Raman vs P.T.A.Rahim and Ors, the Supreme Court categorically stated: “The word ‘profit’ has always been treated equivalent to or a substitute for the term ‘pecuniary gain’”
  2. The principle that an “office” should have “receivables” attached to it for it to qualify as an OoP, has been upheld in other cases as well

Backdoor provision

  1. The Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill, 2006 provides for exempting 56 posts from being considered an office of profit
Jan, 19, 2018

Electoral bonds will not solve transparency issues in political funding: CEC

Image source

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency & accountability

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Electoral bonds, Representation of the People Act, 1951

Mains level: Issues related to political funding and steps being taken to resolve them


News

Transparency issue will still remain

  1. Electoral bonds are a step in right direction, said Chief election commissioner
  2. But they will not solve all problems pertaining to transparency in political funding

Change of stance of EC

  1. EC had told a parliamentary committee that electoral bonds introduced by the government is a “retrograde” step
  2. The commission, in a written submission to the parliamentary standing committee on law and personnel in May, had said changes made in the election laws after the introduction of the bonds would compromise transparency in political fundings

How electoral bonds would affect transparency, according to EC

  1. The amendment in section 29 C of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 making it no longer necessary to report details of donations received through electoral bonds would compromise transparency

Process of funding via Electoral bonds

  1. An electoral bond can be purchased by any citizen of India or a body incorporated in India
  2. The bonds will be issued in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore
  3. They will be available at specified branches of the State Bank of India
  4. Donors can donate the bonds to their party of choice which can then be cashed via the party’s verified account within 15 days
  5. Every party that is registered under section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and has secured at least one percent of the votes polled in the most recent Lok Sabha or assembly election will be allotted a verified account by the Election Commission
  6. Electoral bond transactions can be made only via that account
Jan, 12, 2018

In view of new media, EC panel to suggest changes to model code

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Section 126 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, Model Code of Conduct

Mains level: Measures being taken by EC to make elections more transparent


News

Changes sought in Model Code of Conduct

  1. The Election Commission (EC) has set up a 14-member committee to suggest changes to Section 126 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act
  2. This provision prohibits poll campaign in the last 48 hours leading to voting
  3. Due to the multifold expansion of digital and electronic media, the extant Model Code of Conduct, Section 126 of the RP Act, 1951, and other related provisions require revisiting to cater to the requirement and challenges of the present and emerging situations

What will committee do?

  1. Apart from suggesting modifications to the election law, the committee will also study the impact of new media and social media during the “silence period”
  2. It would study its implication in view of Section 126 and suggest changes to the model code of conduct (MCC) accordingly
  3. It has also been tasked to examine the difficulties faced in regulating media platforms during the prohibitory 48 hours in a multi-phase election

Back2Basics

Model Code of Conduct

  1. It is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India for conduct of political parties and candidates during elections mainly with respect to speeches, polling day, polling booths, election manifestos, processions and general conduct
  2. These set of norms has been evolved with the consensus of political parties who have consented to abide by the principles embodied in the said code in its letter and spirit (The Code doesn’t have any statutory basis)
  3. Even though the Code of Conduct does not have any statutory basis, the EC has the power to disqualify a candidate if he/she violates the code
  4. The Model Code of Conduct comes into force immediately on announcement of the election schedule by the commission for the need of ensuring free and fair elections
  5. The objective of MCC is to ensure that the party in power is not able to use public money to improve its electoral prospects
Jan, 03, 2018

Arun Jaitley notifies electoral bonds for political donations

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Citizens charters, transparency & accountability & institutional & other measures

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Electoral bonds, Budget, bearer instrument, promissory note

Mains level: Ensuring transparency in donations to political parties


News

Basic contours of the electoral bonds scheme announced

  1. Details such as denominations, validity, and eligibility of the purchasers were announced by Finance minister for the electoral bonds scheme announced during the 2017 Budget 
  2. Electoral bonds will allow donors to remain anonymous and pay political parties using banks as intermediaries

Highlights of provisions

  1. Electoral bonds would be a bearer instrument in the nature of a promissory note and an interest-free banking instrument
  2. A citizen of India or a body incorporated in India will be eligible to purchase the bond
  3. Electoral bonds can be purchased for any value in multiples of ₹1,000, ₹10,000, ₹10 lakh, and ₹1 crore from any of the specified branches of the State Bank of India
  4. The purchaser will be allowed to buy electoral bonds only on due fulfillment of all the extant KYC norms and by making payment from a bank account
  5. The bonds will have a life of 15 days (15 days time has been prescribed for the bonds to ensure that they do not become a parallel currency)
  6. They can be used to make donations to registered political parties that have secured not less than 1% of the votes polled in the last election to the Lok Sabha or Assembly
  7. The bonds shall be available for purchase for a period of 10 days each in the months of January, April, July, and October, with an additional 30 days to be specified by the Central government in the year of a general election
  8. The bond shall be encashed by an eligible political party only through a designated bank account with the authorized bank

Why is the name of donor not being disclosed?

  1. Bonds would get reflected in the balance sheet of the donors
  2. Currently,  for a very large part of donation coming to political parties by the donors, quantum and source is not known
  3. The past experience has shown that once the names are disclosed, there is a tendency to shift to cash donations
  4. Bonds will ensure cleaner money coming from donors, cleaner money coming to political party and ensure significant transparency
Dec, 15, 2017

SC clears 12 special courts to try cases against politicians

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Fast-track courts, provisions related to election of convicted persons to Parliament/legislative assemblies

Mains level: Electoral reforms being brought about by Judiciary


News

SC nod to set up 12 fast track courts 

  1. The Supreme Court gave the green signal for the Centre’s scheme to set up 12 fast-track courts
  2. These courts will exclusively prosecute and dispose of 1,581 criminal cases pending against Members of Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies within a year
  3. The States shall, in consultation with the High Courts concerned, make the courts operational by March 1, 2018

About the scheme

  1. These 1,581 criminal cases were declared by politicians in their nominations during the 2014 general elections
  2. The scheme proposes to club the cases of several politicians together and have one court hear them
  3. This way it is expected that a special court would finish at least 100 cases a year
  4. The Supreme Court directed the High Courts, acting through the various trial courts, to trace out from the case records the criminal cases pending against politicians and transfer them to the special courts concerned for adjudication

Read more about the issue here

Dec, 13, 2017

Electoral bonds likely to carry validity of 15 days

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Electoral bond, promissory note

Mains level: Black money usage in elections and ways to reduce it


News

Guidelines for electoral bonds

  1. To prevent misuse of proposed electoral bonds, the government is likely to cap the validity at 15 days within which such bonds — bearer in nature — have to be redeemed by political parties
  2. Such bonds would be bearer in nature so that those having it can encash through only one notified account within stipulated time
  3. As per the electoral bond mechanism, the proposed bonds will resemble a promissory note and not an interest-paying debt instrument

What does this mean?

  1. Each party will have one notified bank account
  2. All bonds are to be deposited in that particular account
  3. It is a paper currency and needs to be encashed in 15 days, otherwise, it loses validity

Effort to reduce black money usage in elections

  1. The short duration of bonds will ensure these cannot be misused and the objective of reducing the incidence of black money in political funding is achieved
Dec, 13, 2017

Special courts to try politicians, Centre informs SC

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Provisions related to elections

Mains level: Electoral reforms by judiciary


News

12 special courts to be set up

  1. The Centre informed the Supreme Court that it will set up at least 12 special courts to try exclusively criminal cases involving MPs and MLAs
  2. The scheme had been given in-principle approval by the Finance Ministry on December 8

Why this move?

  1. The court on November 1 had directed the Centre to place before it details of 1,581 cases involving MPs and MLAs,
  2. This had to be as per the declaration by the politicians at the time of filing their nominations during the 2014 general elections
  3. Supreme Court had directed in November to the government to frame a Central scheme for setting up special courts across the country exclusively to try criminal cases involving “political persons”
Dec, 06, 2017

[op-ed snap] The one-election idea is a farce

Image Source

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The newscards discusses arguments against simultaneous elections in India, which is a much discussed issue.


News

Four reasons cited by the PM in support of Simultaneous Elections

  1. Massive expenditure
  2. Diversion of security and civil staff from primary duties
  3. Impact on governance due to the model code of conduct
  4. And disruption to normal public life

Data on Election Cost

  1. The Election Commission incurs a total cost of roughly Rs. 8,000 crore to conduct all State and federal elections in a span of five years, or roughly Rs. 1,500 crore every year
  2. Nearly 600 million Indians vote in India’s elections, which means, it costs Rs. 27 per voter per year to keep India an electoral democracy
  3. All the States and the Centre combined incurred an expenditure of nearly Rs. 30 lakh crore in FY2014
  4. Surely, 0.05% of India’s total annual expenditure is not a large price to pay for the pride of being the world’s largest and most vibrant electoral democracy

Effect of frequent model code of conducts

  1. The model code of conduct for elections was agreed to by political parties in 1979
  2. And prohibits the ruling party from incurring capital expenditure for certain projects after elections are announced
  3. We can counter this issue with “cooperative federalism”, where more development projects are taken by State Governments rather than Central Government
  4. And if all political parties still feel the need to reform the code, they are free to do so. The solution is to reform the code and not the electoral cycle

Other issues cited by the expert against simultaneous elections

  1. Diversion of civil staff and disruption of public life were the two other reasons cited
  2. These two reasons are very weak when measured against the costs of limiting electoral opportunities for citizens
  3. Issue of voting to the same party: all simultaneous elections to State Assemblies and Parliament between 1999 and 2014 shows that simultaneous elections do have an impact on voter behaviour
  4. In 77% of these constituencies, voters chose the same political party for both State and Centre
  5. When elections were held even six months apart, only 61% chose the same political party
  6. When elections became disparate, there was no evidence of the voter choosing the same party

Simultaneous elections will affect political autonomy of states

  1. Simultaneous elections impinge on the political autonomy of States
  2. Today, any elected State government can choose to dissolve its Assembly and call for fresh elections
  3. If elections are to be held simultaneously, States will have to give up this power and wait for a national election schedule

The way forward

  1. There is still much that is wrong with our nation in its governance and elections
  2. But disparate elections to States and Parliament are not one of them
  3. There is much to improve in terms of efficiency of our governance. But “oneness” is not the desired path to efficiency in a diverse polity such as India
Dec, 02, 2017

‘Way to remove poll commissioners vague’

Note4Students

Mains Paper2: Powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.

The following things are important from UPSC perspective:

Prelims: Election Commission

Mains level: The news card talks about the issue of vagueness in the procedure for of removal Election Commissioners as the Constitution only provides safeguard to CEC from the arbitrary removal.


News

Context

  1. The Supreme Court on Friday sought the Attorney-General’s assistance on a PIL petition pointing out the vagueness in the procedure for removal of Election Commissioners, saying it affects the Election Commission’s autonomy.
  2. A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra asked for a copy of the petition to be served on Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal so that he could address the court on the issue which is due to come up after three weeks.

The Petition

  1. The petition filed by Supreme Court advocate argued that though the proviso to Article 324 (5) of the Constitution safeguards the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) from arbitrary removal, the same provision is silent about the procedure for removal of the two Election Commissioners.
  2. It only provides that they cannot be removed from office except on the recommendation of the CEC.
  3. The petition said the ambiguity about the removal procedure of the Election Commissioners may affect the functional independence of the Commission.
  4. It contended that the rationale behind not affording similar protection to Election Commissioners is not explicable.
  5. The element of independence sought to be achieved under the Constitution is not exclusively for an individual alone but for the institution.
  6. The petition, in short, has asked the Supreme Court to provide Election Commissioners with the same protection against arbitrary removal as the Chief Election Commissioner.

Same powers

  1. The CEC and the Election Commissioners enjoy the same decision-making powers which are suggestive of the fact that their powers are at par with each other.
  2. However, Article 324(5) does not provide similar protection to the Election Commissioners and it merely says that they cannot be removed from office except on the recommendation of the CEC.

Tenure

  1. The CEC and the Election Commissioners have tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65, whichever is earlier.
  2. Also, they enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Supreme Court judges.

 

 

 

 

Dec, 02, 2017

SC notice to EC on plea to ban convicts from running parties

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Powers available to EC under various constitutional and statutory provisions, Quasi judicial bodies

Mains level: Electoral reforms and role of judiciary in it


News

Notice issued by SC to Election commission and Central govt

  1. The Supreme Court issued notice to the Centre and Election Commission on a Public Interest Litigation that sought a ban on convicted persons from forming political parties or becoming office-bearer of a party

What will SC decide in PIL?

  1. SC will examine if the Election Commission was empowered under Section 29A of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 to derecognise a political party so formed or to disqualify the person
  2. Section 29A deals with registration of political parties

Provisions in RP Act and other judgments

  1. There are certain provisions under the 1951 Act which disqualify people from contesting the election
  2. A 2002 judgment of the apex court in Indian National Congress (I) vs Institute of Social Welfare & others, which spoke about “three exceptions” in which the Election Commission can review its order on registering a political party
  3. It is a duty of the Election Commission to exercise a quasi-judicial power

Contradictions in law

  1. By virtue of sections 8, 8A, 9, 9A, 10 and 11 of the Act of 1951, it has already been held that candidates convicted under criminal laws are disqualified from contesting elections with immediate effect
  2. Section 29 A is in total conflict with this objective to decriminalise politics in so far as it does not debar such convicts from making, operating and running a political party

What does PIL seek?

  1. It wants the court to declare unconstitutional Section 29A
  2. Also, to authorise the ECI to de-register political parties taking in account the reports by the Goswami Committee on electoral reform
Nov, 30, 2017

Electoral bonds: Govt, RBI finalising norms; unveiling likely by year-end

Note4Students

Mains Paper2 | Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States

The following things are important from UPSC perspective:

Prelims: Electoral Bonds

Mains level: This news card talks discusses Electoral Bonds and some concerns regarding them.


News

Context

The government is expected to unveil the electoral bonds scheme by the end of next month as the finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India are close to finalising the norms for these bonds.

Background

  1. Finance minister during his Budget speech, had proposed steps for cleansing political funding, including a ban on cash donations of over Rs 2,000 to a political party from any individual.
  2. He had also announced the proposal to issue electoral bonds through which a donor could buy bonds from authorised banks against cheques and digital payments that would be redeemable only in the designated account of a registered political party.

Electoral Bonds

  1. These bonds are likely to be issued by the RBI and some public sector banks and will have a limited validity during which these can be deposited into designated accounts of the political parties.
  2. The government has taken into consideration the issues of transparency raised by the Election Commission and other stakeholders.
  3. These bonds will not be allowed to be traded.
  4. The smallest bond may be of Rs 1,000 denomination and donors can buy them in multiples.

Other changes related to Electoral Bonds

  1. The government had also introduced omission of the first proviso in Section 182 of the Companies Act, 2013, which consequently removed limits on corporate donations to political parties.
  2. Under Section 29C of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, political parties have to file contribution reports complete with details of donors for any contribution above Rs 20,000.
  3. This was amended in the Budget session this year to introduce a proviso and explanation that exempts political parties from disclosing donations received from electoral bonds, even if it is above the prescribed limit.
  4. According to Finance Bill amendments, the previous limit of 7.5 per cent of the average three-year net profit for donations has been removed and companies are no longer required to name the parties to which contributions are made they will be required to disclose the amount.

Concern raised by EC regarding Electoral Bonds

  1. Former Chief Election Commissioner had expressed concerns saying that electoral bonds would impact transparency negatively and the poll panel had not been consulted.
  2. But the government has reiterated the need to cleanse the entire system of political funding.

 

 

Nov, 25, 2017

No fresh polls if NOTA votes exceed candidates’

Image source

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: NOTA option

Mains level: Reforms in election process


News

PIL rejected

  1. Supreme couert rejected a public interest litigation petition suggesting fresh elections whenever the public chose overwhelmingly the “None of the Above” (NOTA) option
  2. The court said a voter had the right to express his dissent by staying at home

Arguments put forward by SC

  1. Let us say the highest percentage of votes polled by a candidate is 40 and the rest goes to NOTA
  2. Does this mean we subject this candidate to another election
  3. This means there should be an election each time a candidate gets less than 51% of the votes polled
  4. Saying this will be crossing a constitutional barricade

Back2Basics

NOTA option

  1. “None Of The Above”, or NOTA for short, also known as “against all” or a “scratch” vote, is a ballot option in some jurisdictions or organizations, designed to allow the voter to indicate disapproval of all of the candidates in a voting system
  2. It is based on the principle that consent requires the ability to withhold consent in an election, just as they can by voting “No” on ballot questions
  3. When “None of the Above” is listed on a ballot, there is the possibility of NOTA receiving a majority or plurality of the vote, and so “winning” the election
  4. In such a case, a variety of formal procedures may be invoked, including having the office remain vacant, having the office filled by appointment, re-opening nominations or holding another election (in a body operating under parliamentary procedure), or it may have no effect whatsoever, as in India
Nov, 21, 2017

[op-ed snap] The danger of electoral bonds

Image source

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Citizens charters, transparency & accountability & institutional & other measures

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Law Commission, Association of Democratic Reforms, Representation of the People Act, The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA)

Mains level: Funding to political parties


Context

  1. Transparency in political funding is the global norm
  2. The 255th Law Commission Report on Electoral Reforms observed that opacity in political funding results in “lobbying and capture” of the government by big donors
  3. The lower the transparency in political funding, the easier it is for the super-rich to buy the kind of government they want

Funding to political parties

  1. According to the NGO, Association of Democratic Reforms, 69% of the income of political parties is from unknown sources
  2. Even the 31% from known sources pertains only to the income that the parties declare to the Income Tax (IT) department
  3. The real incomes of political parties are far greater than their declared income, all due to black money
  4. Not only is the source unknown for the greater chunk of a party’s income, even the very existence of this income is ‘unknown’, as it is not captured in any official record

Declaration norms

These are traditionally governed by four legislations

  1. The Representation of the People Act (RPA),
  2. The IT Act,
  3. The Companies Act, and
  4. The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA)
  • Under these laws, political parties have to declare the source and the amount donated for all contributions above ₹20,000
  • Political parties cannot accept foreign contributions
  • Similarly, companies have to declare in their profit and loss (P&L) statement the party-wise break-up of political donations
  • Also, a company must be at least three years old to contribute to a party
  • Its contribution cannot be more than 7.5% of its average net profit in the three preceding years

Making way for Electoral bonds

  1. The government set the ball rolling with the Finance Act 2016, which amended the FCRA to allow political parties to accept donations from foreign companies
  2. This year, the Finance Act 2017 did the rest, by amending the RPA, the Companies Act, and the IT Act
  3. The Reserve Bank of India Act was also amended to enable the issuance of electoral bonds, which would be sold through notified banks

What electoral bonds do?

  1. Electoral bonds are essentially bearer bonds that ensure donor anonymity
  2. They are like cash, but with an expiry date.
  3. Let’s say company ‘X’ wishes to contribute ₹100 crore to political party ‘Y’
  4. It could buy ten electoral bonds of ₹10 crore each from bank ‘A’
  5. These bonds would carry only a serial number and not the identity of the buyer
  6. X would have these bonds deposited in Y’s designated account with bank ‘B’
  7. B would know that this money belongs to Y but it doesn’t record the fact that it has come from X

Changes in donation limitations via Electoral bonds

  1. The cluster of amendments around electoral bonds eliminate the 7.5% cap on company donations
  2. This means even loss-making companies can make unlimited donations
  3. The requirement for a company to have been in existence for three years is also scrapped
  4. Companies no longer need to declare the names of the parties to which they have donated
  5. As for political parties, they no longer need to reveal the donor’s name for contributions above ₹20,000, provided these are in the form of electoral bonds
  6. A foreign company can anonymously donate unlimited sums to an Indian political party without the EC or the IT department ever getting to know

Danger to democracy

  1. The most pernicious feature of electoral bonds is their potential to load the dice heavily in favor of the ruling party
  2. Banks receiving donation amounts on behalf of political parties as well as companies report to the RBI which, in turn, is subject to the Central government’s will to know
  3. So, only the ruling party — and no one else — can ascertain which companies donated to the Opposition parties
  4. It is then free to use the organs of the state to gently dissuade (or retaliate against) these misguided donors
  5. Only the government is in a position to harass, or alternatively, protect, donors from harassment by non-state harassers

Way forward

  1. Former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi has suggested an alternative worth exploring
  2. A National Electoral Fund to which all donors can contribute
  3. The funds would be allocated to political parties in proportion to the votes they get
  4. Not only would this protect the identity of donors, it would also weed out black money from political funding
Nov, 01, 2017

[op-ed snap] Making party bosses give up their powers

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Law Commission of India, MPLADS and MLALADS

Mains level: Reforms required in political party structure in India


Context

  1. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a debate on levels of intra-party democracy in different political parties in India
  2. He also stressed that the quality of a democracy ultimately depends on internal democracy (or the lack of it) in political parties

Importance of intra-party democracy in the success of a democracy

  1. In its 170th report in 1999, the Law Commission of India underscored the importance of intra-party democracy
  2. It argued that a political party cannot be a “dictatorship internally and democratic in its functioning outside”

Is central control inevitable?

  1. The opacity of political financing necessitates “unhindered top-down control” and “absolute loyalty down the line”
  2. The fear of party fragmentation, not uncommon in India, also drives the desire for centralized control

Anti-defection law is also responsible for low intra-party democracy

  1. By making it mandatory for the legislator to vote along her party line, this law has done immense damage to both intra-party democracy and the accountability of a legislator towards her constituency
  2. It also skews the balance of power between the executive and the legislature
  3. The legislator is no longer empowered to act as an effective check on the government of the day

Patronage politics increases due to MPLADS and MLALADS

  1. Local area development schemes like MPLADS and MLALADS that vest an annual sum with the members of Parliament and legislative assemblies for development work in their constituencies skew the balance in favor of state and Central legislators
  2. This is at the expense of city- and village-level administrators
  3. These schemes unjustly favor the incumbent representative and also exacerbate the problem of patronage politics

Way forward

  1. Unlike some countries like Germany and Portugal, India has no legal provision for enforcing internal democracy in a political party
  2. There are some related provisions in the Election Commission guidelines but those are neither adequate nor enforceable
  3. Anti-defection law should be done away with, especially for those votes where the survival of the government is not at stake
  4. MPLADS and MLALADS should be scrapped
  5. A partial state subsidy should be provided to fund elections and political parties, which will increase accountability
Oct, 28, 2017

[op-ed snap] In defence of the Election Commission

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Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Issue is related to the transparency of the Election Commission.


News

Context

  1. The article talks about the recent controversies related to the Gujarat’s elections date and some historical controversies related to various elections.

Recent controversy of dates of Gujarat Election

  1. In the time between the announcement of the election dates for Himachal Pradesh and the Gujarat, the state’s BJP government has come up with a raft of sops and schemes
  2. Former chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy has rightly called it an avoidable controversy

People’s trust in the ECI

  1. The comprehensive three-year State of Democracy in South Asia project begun in 2004 found that the ECI stood second only to the army among state institutions when it came to public trust
  2. There is substantive reason for such trust
  3. As with so many foundational aspects of the state, the liberal democratic instincts of the Constitution’s framers, who established the ECI as a constitutional body and gave it a robust mandate
  4. And of the country’s first prime minister who scrupulously guarded that mandate and the ECI’s authority—have stood the country in good stead

1991 controversy with the Haryana government

  1. In 1991 and the Haryana government was not pleased with T.N. Seshan
  2. The new CEC was taking on all comers
  3. In a clash over pre-poll transfer orders, Seshan announced that “when an irresistible force meets an immovable object, one has to yield”
  4. The irreverence and chutzpah neatly summed up Seshan’s tenure at the helm of the EC

Positive consequences of these controversies

  1. This gets to the heart of the ECI’s role in the Indian political system
  2. Its normative authority lends legitimacy to a political establishment that has often struggled for public trust
  3. The prickly independence that irks political parties also sustains them
  4. For this, the executive, legislature and judiciary must all share the credit
  5. Even with numerous confrontations, they have conspired to protect the ECI’s authority—a welcome display of institutional wisdom

Current situation

  1. The ECI is still a work in progress
  2. It has stumbled badly at times
  3. The ugly spat in 2009 between then CEC N. Gopalaswami and EC Navin Chawla, with the former recommending the latter’s removal on grounds of partisanship, damaged the institution’s credibility
  4. And its seeking contempt powers earlier this year was an egregious overstepping of bounds worthy of Seshan

The way forward

  1. By and large, the ECI functions effectively as a deterrent in India’s political system
  2. Political parties play along even when it inconveniences them because they understand that they will some day require the protection it affords weaker actors from the stronger—those in power
  3. They should remember this when they are tempted to undermine its authority
Oct, 10, 2017

[op-ed snap] The mandate, the mirror

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Indian Constitution- significant provisions and basic structure.

 

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: First Past the Post System

Mains level: Electoral reforms in India

 


News

Context-

  1. The article discusses pros and cons of various electoral systems like the First Past the Post, Preferential ballot system and List system.
  2. The author also argues that it could be a good idea to have additional seats in Lok Sabha for smaller parties that poll significant votes but fail to get any seats.

 

What is First Past the Post (FPTP) System?

  1. In this voting method voters indicate on a ballot thecandidate of their choice, and the candidate who receives most votes wins.

Criticisms of FPTP-

  1. Reflects ground reality unfairly: It allows a disproportionate relation between the votes a party polls and the seats it garners. This disproportion is two-fold: Some parties suffer due to an adverse ratio between votes and seats while some benefit from it and win too many seats.

Explained: In the last parliamentary elections, for instance, the BJP polled under one-third votes and managed to win more than 50 per cent of the seats. In contrast, the Congress polled under one-fifth votes but it could win just 8 per cent seats.

  1. Two, the winning candidate does not necessarily have a real (that is, absolute) majority in the constituency.

 

Counter-arguments-

  1. The system that is sometimes erroneously seen as unfair might actually be articulating the reality a bit more sharply and correctly. This can be justified by the following facts. During the period of 1989-2014, there is a decreasing trend in the Congress’s votes and seat share (both) and increasing trend of the same for the BJP in the same period. Also, this period is widely accepted as the period of decline of the Congress and the rise of the BJP. So, the FPTP in turn quite accurately reflects the ground reality.
  2. Not absolute but relative majority: The logic behind the present system of plurality is that it is adequate if a candidate is “more” popular than any other contestant. To expect a candidate always to have clear or absolute majority would be unrealistic and unnecessary as a democratic precondition.

 

Alternative to Vote-Seat inconsistency: List System-

PROS-

  1. Adopt a List System: In this system parties are allotted seats in proportion to the votes they poll. In case of parties that are new entrants or parties who have very narrow support base (community based) such a system could be a good alternative to win seats.
  2. A list system would genuinely encourage a multi-party system whereas the plurality system is often supposed to encourage two-party system.

CONS-

  1. Our present system is based on the idea of constituency-level representation. The list system would nullify that or, at best, craft huge (often state-wide) multi-member constituencies and even then, the relation between the voter (the constituency) and the candidate (representative) would be snapped.
  2. The grip of the party over legislators would possibly become vicious because the candidature of a particular person would be less important than the party leader and the party brand name.

 


Back2basics

  1. Preferential Voting System: It is a system of voting in which voters indicate their first, second, and lower choices of several candidates for a single office. If no candidate receives a majority, the second choices are added to the first choices until one candidate has a majority.

 

Oct, 09, 2017

Simultaneous polls feasible: EC

Image Source

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Structure of the Election commission, Representation of People’s Act, etc.

Mains level: Simultaneous elections are directly related to the Representation of People’s Act, which is specially mentioned in the syllabus. Also, it is a much debated topic in politics.


News

Elections Commission on simultaneous elections

  1. Election Commission is favoring simultaneous elections
  2. But it said, all political parties need to be brought on board before such an exercise was carried out

Why is EC favoring this?

  1. Simultaneous elections will give enough time to the incumbent government to formulate policies and implement programmes continuously for a longer time
  2. It will also decrease the interruptions caused by the imposition of the model code of conduct

How can it be possible?

  1. The step would be possible only when necessary changes were carried out in the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act
  2. Existing legal and constitutional provisions mandate that elections are to be held within six months ahead of the end of the term of an Assembly or the Lok Sabha

Back2basics

For a comprehensive reading on the Representation of People’s act, Click here

Oct, 07, 2017

One nation, many polls

Note4Students

Mains Paper 2 | Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure.

Prelims: Procedure of Elections to the Lok Sabha and State legislative assemblies.

Mains level: This a hot topic for Mains 2017, has been in news for a while. This article lists out the merits and concerns regarding simultaneous polls for Lok Sabha and State legislative assemblies.

 


News

Context

  1. The idea of simultaneous elections to Parliament and state assemblies has been around for some time now.
  2. It has been examined by the parliament standing committee and the Niti Aayog. Prime Minister has also advocated it.
  3. Now, the Election Commission has said it would be possible, logistically, to hold simultaneous polls to the central and state legislatures by September 2018.
  4. However the idea remains contested one, drawing some valid discontent and the solution it offers is problematic anti-democratic.

Concerns about election process in India-

There are genuine concerns about the unrelenting election calendar in India, with a poll always around the corner-

  1. It takes a toll in terms of the mounting costs — the growing sums of money spent by the candidates, political parties and government, and the routine flouting of all caps and limits on expenses.
  2. A price is also to be paid on the governance front, with ruling parties succumbing to the populist promise and scheme because of an impending election.
  3. The government slows to a standstill after the code of conduct comes into force ahead of over-long multi-phase polls.

Concerns regarding simultaneous elections-

  1. Elections to assemblies who have not completed their five year term yet that is, if simultaneous elections are to be held in 2018-19, what happens to assemblies in states that went to polls last year or this year?
  2. Mid term Polls– After simultaneous polls are held, what if a full five-year term is interrupted by political realignments in an assembly, or assemblies?  In a vigorous and diverse democracy, there is no guarantee, either, that the Lok Sabha will run for its full term.
  3. Insistence on uniformity and tidiness would only undermine the people’s will by making politics more unresponsive and unrepresentative.
  4. Democratic politics must not be circumscribed by an artificial fixity of tenure of the legislature. Holding elections simultaneously will impact basic ethos of democracy.

Divergence from simultaneous polls after first elections in Independent India

  1. The first election in independent India was held simultaneously at the Centre and in the states.
  2. But election cycles soon diverged once the realities of mid-term polls, a multi-party system, coalition politics and a federalising politywere realized.
  3. The federalisation of the polity has deepened democracy in India, with every state evolving its own specific format and time-table of political competition, and throwing up its own set of priorities and issues.
  4. The parliamentary, federal system has worked well for a country of diverse voices and many minorities.

 


Conclusion

The idea of simultaneous polls — one nation, one polls — threatens to re-arrange, curb and flatten out this plural and layered federal system by giving it a more presidential and unitary character. It must be resisted.

 

Q.)Discuss the merits and demerits of conducting simultaneous elections for State Assemblies and Parliament.

Aug, 21, 2017

First-past-post: House panel asks parties if election system should change

Image Source

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: FPTP, Electoral Bonds

Mains level: A possible future Electoral Reform


News

 Discussions on “different systems of elections”

  1. An all-party Parliamentary panel is exploring “different systems of elections”, other than the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system
  2. FPTP is currently followed in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls
  3. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, has sent a six-page “Questionnaire on Electoral Reforms” to all parties and the Election Commission

What is ‘First Past the Post’ system?

  1. A first-past-the-post (abbreviated as FPTP, 1stP, 1PTP or FPP) voting method is one in which voters indicate on a ballot the candidate of their choice, and the candidate who receives most votes wins
  2. First-past-the-post voting is one of several plurality voting methods
  3. It is a common, but not universal, feature of electoral systems with single-member electoral divisions; in fact, first-past-the-post voting is widely practiced in close to one third of the world’s countries
  4. Some notable examples include the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, India and most of the colonies and protectorates either currently or formerly belonging to these countries

Why is the PSC exploring different systems of elections?

  1. According the PSC, in recent years the FPTP system is not the best suited system as is evident from the recent Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh
  2. Many Opposition leaders have reminded the BJP that it won the 2014 Lok Sabha polls because of the FPTP system
  3. As the party polled only about 31 per cent of the vote share

Other issues discussed by the panel

  1. The views of parties and the EC have been sought under five heads: (1) ‘Electoral Funding’, (2) ‘Systems of Elections’, (3) ‘Media/ Free Airtime’, (4) ‘Internal Democracy in Political Parties’, and (5) ‘Miscellaneous’
  2. On the issue of electoral funding, the panel has sought views on the electoral bonds and on the proposal regarding state funding of elections
Aug, 03, 2017

Government clears proxy vote move for NRIs

Image Source

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Indian Diaspora

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: What is proxy voting?

Mains level: Important electoral reform. One should go through its benefits for Mains paper 2


News

Changes in Electoral Laws

  1. The Government has approved changes in electoral laws to permit Non-Resident Indians to cast their vote in assembly and Lok Sabha elections from overseas
  2. If the proposal passes in Parliament, NRIs will be able to exercise their voting rights through “proxy
  3. Currently, only service personnel are permitted to vote through proxy

Why is proposed facility of proxy for NRIs different from service personnel?

  1. The facility for NRIs will not be the same as that enjoyed by service personnel
  2. For example, voters in the armed forces can nominate their relatives as permanent proxy to vote on their behalf
  3. Facility for NRIs: Overseas electors will have to appoint a nominee afresh for each election
  4. One person can act as proxy for only one overseas voter
Dec, 03, 2016

EC must consider state funding of polls: Nirmala

  1. Source: Commerce & Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman
  2. She said the Election Commission of India (ECI) needs to look into the proposal for state funding of elections
  3. Reason: To combat the influence of cash and black money in them

Note4students:

State funding of elections and other electoral reforms such as one state and national election have been in the news frequently these past few months. They are important for mains.

Back2basics:

State funding essentially means the state shall provide funds to political parties to contest elections, and in return, there are restrictions on their accepting funds from public sources. State funding is a concept designed to reduce corruption. Some govt committees which have looked at state funding of elections in the past are:

1. The Committee on Constitutional Reforms and the Law Commission (2015)

2. Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2008)

3. National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (2001)

Oct, 26, 2016

SC declines to go into Hindutva verdict

  1. The SC declined a plea of social activist Teesta Setalvad to check the “devastating consequences” of its 1995 judgment defining Hindutva or Hinduism as a “way of life”
  2. The Bench clarified that it is presently only examining what constitutes corrupt electoral practices under Section 123 (3) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951
Oct, 25, 2016

Era of e-postal ballots dawns, courtesy EC’s new initiative II

  1. The change will go a long way in easing logistical issues involved in ensuring that the ballot paper of the constituency, where a voter is eligible to vote, is sent in time
  2. With the new rule, the returning officer can send it through a web portal with a ‘One Time Password’ to voters. The voter needs to download the ballot for voting
  3. Postal ballots: In India, postal ballots have played a critical role in extending the electoral process to voters unable to exercise their franchise
  4. This is due to either the nature of their job or geographical location of their posting. The armed forces best illustrate the point
Oct, 25, 2016

Era of e-postal ballots dawns, courtesy EC’s new initiative I

  1. Event: A change in ‘The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961’
  2. Result: This allows a returning officer in any constituency, to send postal ballots to an eligible voter “by electronic means as specified by the Election Commission”
  3. In the 2014 general elections, over one million voters used postal ballots
  4. Previously: Till now, postal ballots were sent through the Department of Posts
Oct, 21, 2016

Hindutva as ‘way of life’ challenged

  1. Event: Case before SC Constitution Bench on how parties and candidates misuse religion to swing votes
  2. What: Three citizens urged the SC to undo the “devastating consequences” of its 1996 judgment defining Hindutva as a way of life
  3. The 1996 case is the Dr. Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo versus Prabhakar K. Kunte judgment
  4. 3 applicants, including anti-Godhra activist Teesta Setalvad, argued that Hindutva has become a mark of nationalism and citizenship
  5. According to them the 1996 interpretation has curtailed faith in secularism, which is the basic feature of the Constitution
Oct, 20, 2016

Compulsory voting is not practical in India, says Zaidi II

  1. The CEC said the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation project has over the years given creditable gains in a relatively short period of time
  2. There was a 66.4% voter turnout in an electorate of 834 million in the national elections held in 2014, the highest in 6 decades
  3. Women’s participation was at a record high of 65.6 per cent
Oct, 20, 2016

Compulsory voting is not practical in India, says Zaidi I

  1. Source: Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi
  2. He said the idea of compulsory voting has not been found so practical in India
  3. However, comparative benefits of compulsory voting and education-led mobilisation of voters will be worth examining
  4. The government had earlier said it would not be possible to bring in a law that punishes those who do not vote
  5. The govt. statement had been in reference to a private members Bill in the LS on compulsory voting
Oct, 19, 2016

SC’s poser on misuse of religion in elections

  1. Event: SC hearing on the practice of using the mass appeal of religious leaders to canvas votes for candidates
  2. Case is being heard by a seven-judge Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur
  3. Issue: The Bench is testing the limits of Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act
  4. It is looking to give an authoritative pronouncement on what are the various means by which misuse of religion or faith of the masses for electoral gains can be categorised as a corrupt practice
  5. Previous SC judgments: 1995 judgment, delivered by Justice J.S. Verma
  6. The 1995 verdict held that canvassing votes in the name of ‘Hindutva/Hinduism’ did not prejudicially affect any candidate as Hindutva is a way of life of the people in the sub-continent and ‘a state of mind’
Sep, 28, 2016

[op-ed snap] The case against simultaneous polls

  1. Theme: Simultaneous polls at national and state level
  2. Background: Online public consultation has been initiated by the Central Government to seek inputs about the desirability of simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.
  3. Various arguments for and against simultaneous polls: Simultaneous polls will help in saving a lot of money. But imposing simultaneous elections to cut costs, privileges monetary concerns over democratic principles.
  4. With multiple elections, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is in force for much of the time which slows down development work. Simultaneous polls will thus result in better governance. But, a better solution would be to make changes in the MCC so that it comes into force on notification rather than on announcement of elections.
  5. Also, there is already a provision in the MCC that the Election Commission can permit the Government to take policy decisions that are not likely to have any implications for the electoral outcome.
  6. And, MCC applies only to the State where Assembly elections are to be held. It should not impact governance in the rest of the country and at the Centre.
  7. Imposing simultaneous elections would undermine the federal structure of our country that the Constitution envisages.
  8. When elections are held simultaneously, there is a tendency among the voters to vote for the same party both for electing the State government as well as the Central government. It would thus go against the political diversity which is essential for addressing the social diversity of India.
  9. Other issues with implementing simultaneous elections include: the feasibility of constitutional amendments required; State governments agreeing to the untimely dissolution of the Assemblies; and the question of what happens if a government falls without completing its term.
Sep, 17, 2016

HC seeks Centre’s response on plea for electoral reforms- III

  1. The petition: Political parties should have the responsibility and maintain proper accounts of their income and expenditure and get them annually audited by agencies specified by the ECI
  2. Enhancement of punishment from fine or one year imprisonment to two year jail term for electoral offences like undue influence and bribery at polls and publishing a false statement in connection with an election
  3. Other issues: Proliferation of non-serious parties, process of recognition and de-recognition of political parties, as well as disclosure of assets and liabilities of parties
Sep, 17, 2016

HC seeks Centre’s response on plea for electoral reforms- II

  1. The petition: Suggested implementation of electoral reforms proposed by the Election Commission and Law Commission
  2. The bodies also favour disqualifying a lawmaker even prior to his conviction, at the stage when charges are framed
  3. This would be for offences which carry a punishment of imprisonment for five or more years
  4. Sought directions from Govt to set minimum educational qualifications and maximum age limit for contesting candidates
Sep, 17, 2016

HC seeks Centre’s response on plea for electoral reforms- I

  1. The petition: Setting aside of the six-ear cap on the period of disqualification from contesting polls on being convicted and sentenced to two years or more etc.
  2. The restriction of six years on the period of disqualification of a legislator is ultra vires of the Constitution
  3. It sought that two sections of Representation of the People Act (RPA) be declared void
  4. Why? They restrict disqualification period upto six years only and allow convicted person to contest Parliament and state assembly elections
Sep, 01, 2016

Use violet sketch pen for RS polls: EC

  1. Election Commission: Integrated violet sketch pen of specific design and manufactured by a particular firm, both approved by the Election Commission of India, shall be used in all future elections to Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils
  2. What’s the issue? Two months back, votes of 12 Congress legislators marked using a wrong pen were declared invalid in Rajya Sabha polls in Haryana
  3. It led to the defeat of independent candidate R.K. Anand, who alleged conspiracy
Aug, 30, 2016

Centre moves on vote totaliser machines

  1. News: Union government has set up a ministerial team to take a final decision on the issue of introducing totaliser machines
  2. Context: Election Commission had proposed totaliser machines in November 2008 & the proposal was seconded by the Law Commission in 2015
Aug, 23, 2016

EC to now review national, State status of political parties every 10 years

  1. News: Election Commission has amended Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968
  2. Review: EC will now review the national and state party status of political parties every 2 consecutive Lok Sabha or assembly elections instead of one
  3. However, the criteria of being recognised as a national and state party will remain unchanged
  4. Why? To ensure that ruling parties do not lose their status due to anti-incumbency factor after every election
  5. At present, BSP, BJP, Indian National Congress, NCP, CPI and CPI(M) are the six recognised national political parties & 64 recognised state parties in India
Aug, 19, 2016

Outcome Budget of Law Ministry

  1. News: According to the Financial and Outcome Budget released by the Law Ministry, it has been allocated about Rs.4,112 crore under the non-plan and Rs.900 crore under the plan revenue heads
  2. Elections: Almost 73% of the Rs.5,011 crore budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Law and Justice for the current financial year has been earmarked for election-related expenses
Jun, 08, 2016

Election Commission seeks more teeth

  1. Context: The Election Commission of India (ECI) has written to the Centre seeking amendment to the Representation of the People Act (RPA)
  2. Why? To confer specific powers on the ECI to postpone or countermand polls based on evidence that money power was used to influence voters
  3. Currently, there is no specific provision in the law to this effect & the Constitutional provisions need to be invoked sparingly
  4. Clause 58 A of the RPA empowers the Election Commission to cancel polls only if there is an evidence of booth-capturing or use of muscle power to influence the outcome of elections
May, 21, 2016

When NOTA becomes a whipping boy

  1. NOTA accounted for 1.3% (5,61,244 votes) of the total votes polled in Tamil Nadu in recent Assembly election
  2. The number of NOTA votes exceeded the margin of the defeat of at least 25 second-placed candidates
  3. In their respective constituencies
  4. In the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, 1.4% of the voters (5,82,062 people) exercised the NOTA option
May, 20, 2016

Development determines voting- II

  1. Context: The results of assembly elections to 4 states and 1 Union Territory
  2. West Bengal and Assam: Delivery of services and development have become the dominant axis affecting voting behaviour
  3. The behaviour of the Muslim voter also showed no monolithic pattern
  4. Therefore the way in which identities were being mapped with respect to political parties have changed
  5. This can be said to be an era of a post-Mandal politics
May, 20, 2016

Development determines voting

  1. Context: The results of assembly elections to 4 states and 1 Union Territory
  2. The results shattered many electoral myths and traditions across the country, eluding easy answers
  3. National Trend: The elections have several national trends to their credit
  4. Expectations: The results were not expected to have a national impact, barring Assam where the two big national parties, BJP & Congress were in the fray
May, 17, 2016

Foreign firms can now fund parties

  1. Context: Amendment to Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010 through the Finance Bill route
  2. Amendment: It will legalise Foreign funding to NGOs as well as to the political parties
  3. Issues: Such funding will bypass govt scrutiny
  4. Also, the Representation of People Act bars parties from receiving foreign funds
  5. Such funding will increase foreign influence in Govt
  6. The amendment through money bill route is a way to bypass Rajya Sabha scrutiny
May, 04, 2016

India Post pushes the envelope

  1. Context: India Post delivering message of importance of voting during Puducherry elections
  2. Nearly 2,000 delivery staff members are involved in the campaign
  3. Many of them went on rallies and are distributing pamphlets while delivering mail
  4. The State Election Commission, Puducherry, used Post services to print three lakh Meghdoot postcards with messages
May, 03, 2016

HC dismisses plea on parties’ de-registration

  1. Context: Delhi High Court has dismissed a petition seeking cancellation of registration of political parties having connotation of religion, caste, creed, god or community in their names
  2. History: After 2005 ECI has not registered any political party having such connotations
  3. Citizen Right Foundation: Demanded to prevent such political parties from participates in elections
Apr, 23, 2016

Views on validity NoRKs commission

  1. Election Commission: Ordered deferring the constitution of the commission
  2. Decision to constitute the commission was taken a day before the coming into force of the model code of conduct
  3. Also, Indians residing abroad could be enrolled in electoral rolls as overseas electors in terms of the Section 20A under the Representation of the People Act, 1951
  4. Therefore, setting up a new commission for the welfare of the non-resident Keralites at this stage would be contrary to the spirit of the the model code of conduct
  5. Petitioner: Contended that the Act relating to the commission as well as the decision of the State Cabinet had been made prior to the coming into force of the poll code
Apr, 23, 2016

HC allows formation of NoRKs commission

  1. Context: Kerala High Court allowed the State Govt to issue a notification constituting a Non-Resident Indian (Keralites) Commission
  2. Why? The government was free to constitute the commission as the model code of conduct would not apply to implementation of legislative actions
  3. The 1.6 million Keralite NRIs would be benefited on account of the constitution of the commission
  4. Background: A four-member commission was constituted by Kerala Govt to look into the grievances of the Non-Resident Keralites (NoRKs) and protect their rights, interests, and properties
  5. However: The government was not able to implement the decision in view of the coming into force of the model code of conduct
Apr, 20, 2016

Parties and their sources of income: ADR Report

  1. Context: A report by Association for Democratic Reforms
  2. More than half of the total income of political parties in the financial year 2014-15 came from unknown sources
  3. Congress is the only party that has not yet submitted a copy of its audited report for the year
  4. BJP received Rs. 940 crore in donations, of which nearly half were from donors who gave less than Rs. 20,000
Apr, 16, 2016

Green protocol for elections in Kerala

  1. Emboldening steps taken towards best practicies during elections
  2. The districts are to follow an environment-friendly policy in election-related activities
  3. Political parties have been told to avoid plastic material for campaigning
  4. An award will be given to those officials who set up the best model polling station
Apr, 09, 2016

Solar powered polling booth for voter awareness

  1. What? A solar-powered model polling station to facilitate the general public to have a feel of the actual voting experience
  2. Why? As part of the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation initiatives to spread voter awareness
  3. Where? Puducherry
  4. How? Built on a lorry and provided with the infrastructure and amenities that would be available in a real polling station
Feb, 26, 2016

Lok Sabha passes Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2016

  1. Purpose: To grant voting rights to people who became citizens of India following the exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh
  2. Context: Bill seeks to amend the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1950 and the Delimitation Act, 2002
  3. Relevance: These Acts regulate allocation of seats to the Lok Sabha and state legislatures and delimitation (fixing boundaries) of parliamentary and state assembly constituencies
  4. Aim: To empower the Election Commission of India (ECI) to carry out delimitation in areas that were affected by the enactment of Constitution (100th Amendment) Act, 2015
  5. Under the 2015 Act, enclaves were exchanged between India and Bangladesh
  6. Bill empowers ECI to amend the delimitation order for –
  • Include in the relevant constituencies the Bangladeshi enclaves that were transferred to India
  • Exclude of relevant constituencies in the Indian enclaves that were transferred to Bangladesh
Dec, 18, 2015

Adoption of the New Delhi Declaration 2015

  1. A regional conference on The Use of Money in Politics and Its Effects on People’s Representation culminated in the New Delhi Declaration 2015.
  2. The Conference was jointly organized by the Election Commission of India, International IDEA and India International Institute of Democracy and Election Management.
  3. IDEA is an intergovernmental body wherein India is one of the founding members.
  4. This was first time stakeholders discussed issues and solutions on political finance regulation at a regional level.
Nov, 17, 2015

Intensify NOTA promotion for local body elections: Gujarat HC to SEC

The Gujarat HC directed the State Election Commission (SEC) to further promote the NOTA option among the voters in the coming local body polls.

  1. Earlier, the HC had ordered the SEC to bring the NOTA option for the voters in local body elections.
  2. State govt. was asked to assist the commission to create awareness among the voters.
  3. Poll panel had informed court about promotional activities through TV, radio, newspapers.
Oct, 31, 2015

Give NOTA option in civic polls: Gujarat HC

  1. The HC directed the State Election Commission to implement the NOTA option in the municipal and panchayat elections in the State.
  2. The State poll panel was reluctant to implement the option.
  3. The Bench also modified its previous order that stayed a plan for compulsory voting in these polls.
Apr, 14, 2015

Election Commission sets up committee to allow migrants to vote

  1. After the government’s green light to NRIs to cast their votes from abroad – EC is mulling over the idea of empowering migrant voters.
  2. Under the present law, a person can be enrolled only at the place he is residing.
  3. This would need to amend the Representation of the People Act.
  4. Relaxation of the present law will benefit parties to keep vote bank intact.
Mar, 19, 2015

Make paid news a poll offence: Law panel

  1. Newspaper advertisements on the eve of elections to be banned.
  2. Independent candidates to be barred from contesting elections as mostly they are dummy candidates with no chances of winning.
  3. If any candidate indulges in paid news – disqualify him.
  4. Make it compulsory for parties to declare all donations, even if less than Rs.20,000, if total 20 crores or 20% of party contribution comes from such small amounts.
Mar, 19, 2015

Justice A.P. Shah submits report on Electoral Disqualifications (2/2)

  1. To check on the validity/evolution of current disqualification stages
  2. Disq. @ Conviction –  long delays in trials and rare convictions are prevalent.
  3. Disq. @ Report Filing – filing of the police report, there is no application of judicial mind. So, that cannot be a disq. stage.
  4. Disq. @ Framing – this is based on adequate levels of judicial scrutiny. Hence, put additional safeguards at this stage and go for it!

    Discuss: What can be the safeguards put into the disq. clause so that no one abuses it? Entertain only major offences, Charges filed >1 year before nomination should not be taken up, etc. 

Mar, 19, 2015

Justice A.P. Shah submits report on Electoral Disqualifications (1/2)

  1. Report about electoral reforms (following the SC directive issued in Dec 2013, in the PIL related to decriminalisation of politics).
  2. Examined issues related to – Disqualification of candidates with criminal background & Consequences of filing false affidavits.
  3. Commission examined the different stages at which disqualification may be triggered, and decided upon the stage of framing of charges.
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great job sir . . . thanks a lot .