Monday, January 25, 2010

60 Years of Election Commission of India: Retrospect and Prospect

By Dr. S.Y.Quraishi* , Election Commissioner of India

ECI: The Institutional Design

— Free and fair elections were considered so important that at some point of time the Constituent Assembly even considered the idea of treating the independence of elections as a Fundamental Right of the citizens. Ultimately ‘a matter of Fundamental Importance’.
— No other constitution deals with elections in such details, devoting a separate Part.
— Founding fathers’ had great wisdom to provide an institutional design and framework to ECI to be fiercely independent body.
— The Constitution Assembly’s concern that interests of linguistic and cultural minorities should not allowed to be compromised while preparing the electoral rolls and conduct of elections. Hence a single EC for the whole country.
— “If we were to have a perfect electoral roll… I am sure we must have an independent Commission”… Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
— Federalist concerns vs. credibility of the electoral system of the plural India.

The Constitutional Provisions

• Part XV of the Constitution deals with “Elections”
Ø Article 324 (1) vests in the EC the superintendence, direction and control of all elections to Parliament and Vidhan Sabhas, office of President and Vice President.
Ø Article 324 (6) provides that the President or the Governor of a State, shall, when so requested by the EC, make available to the EC such staff as may be necessary for the discharge of the functions conferred on the EC by clause (1).
Ø Article 329 (b) stipulates that no election shall be called in question except by an election petition.
• Multi-member Commission -
Ø From 16th October 1989 to 1st January 1990
Ø Continuously since 1st October 1993
• The Chief Election Commissioner shall not be removed from his office except like a judge of the Supreme Court. (Art.324 (5))
• No Election Commissioner shall be removed from office except on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner. (Art,324 (5))

Judicial Support

“Where the existing laws are absent and yet a situation has to be tackled, the Chief Election Commissioner has not to fold his hands and pray to God for divine inspiration to enable him to exercise his functions and perform his duties or to look for any external authority for the grant of powers to deal with situation. He must lawfully exercise his power independently, and see that the election process is completed properly in a free and fair manner.”
- Supreme Court of India, in M.S.Gill and Anor V Chief Election Commissioner and Ors, AID 1978 SC 851

Special Features of Indian Electoral System

— Universal Adult Franchise – from day one.
Ø A giant leap forward, a defining moment in the socio-political history of India.
Ø Other democracies in the world took long and arduous path.
— EC a powerful neutral umpire.
— In many democracies election schedule decided by the Government. In India EC decides the date.
— Disciplinary Control Over the Election Machinery
Ø Apart from its Secretariat at New Delhi, the EC has no independent electoral machinery in the field.
Ø Temporary seconding of state/central government staff.
Ø Deemed deputation to EC (R.P.Act as amended in 1988).
• Many governments thrown out through verdict of voters. The transfer of power has always been smooth. There has never been a problem of succession.
• Acceptance of people’s verdict by all political formations. No one dares to defy or question the wisdom of the electorate.
• Model Code of Conduct
• a unique document, evolved with the consensus of political parties, a singular contribution by them to the cause of democracy and to strengthen its roots in the political system.
• Model Code has since emerged as the Moral Code.
• It has no statutory backing and many of its provisions are not legally enforceable.
• At some point EC wanted legal backing to the MCC but later changed mind
- The Model Code far more efficacious for quick decisions which would not be possible if it becomes part of statute book.

Process Improvements

1. Electoral Rolls
— Computerization of Electoral Rolls since mid 90s is a major technological leap forward.
— Photo Electoral Rolls (82%).
— Fidelity of rolls is the current focus.
Ø Phenomena of SAD Voters.
— Compulsory identification and EPIC a major initiative at curbing impersonations.

2. From Ballot to Button
• 1952 - separate ballot boxes for candidates during first General Elections.
• 1962 - Marking system of voting. It worked fairly well
Ø If the invalid votes outnumber the winning margin, legitimacy of representation becomes questionable on moral grounds.
• In 1982, EVMs used on experimental basis, at 50 out of 84 PSs in Parur in Kerala.
• In many other constituencies on an experimental basis later.
• Law had to be amended to enable use of EVMs in elections
• Use of EVM was challenged in the Courts of Law.
• There was popular demand for use of EVMs from different parts of the country.
• Universal use of EVMs at a general elections in 2004.
• EVMs were used at 6,87,402 polling stations.

On the Dot Delivery

— Periodic and credible elections are the lifeline of democracy.
— ECI has delivered all elections, promptly, as per schedule and on dot even in most trying circumstances.
— Conduct of elections under extraordinary circumstances:

Ø Assam - 1982-83
Ø J&K - 1987-89, 1996, 2002 and in 2008
Ø Punjab - 1992
— Dissolutions of Legislative Assemblies following General Elections to Parliament in 1971 and in 1977 broke the cycle of simultaneous elections.

Recent Initiatives

— Booth Level Officers (BLO) System
— Booth Level Agents
— Vulnerability Mapping
— ComET: Communication for Election Tracking
— Micro Observers
— Video as a Weapon
— Use of State of Art Technology
— GIS for constituency maps, route for movement of polling staff and security personnel and for deciding phasing options for multi-phase elections.
— Google Earth used for locating polling stations on the map with geo co-ordinates.
— Sat phones in shadow areas esp. Maoist
— Live web-casting directly from polling station was experimented in Arunachal during GE 2009 and subsequently used in Jharkhand and in recent bye election in Tamil Nadu.
— Voter Assistance
— Voter Assistance Booths in places where there are more than one polling booth in one campus
— Alphabetical Voters’ lists for easier search
— Voters’ lists on the CEOs websites
— Provision of ramps for disabled voters
— Provision of Braille strip and Braille ballot paper for visually disabled voters

Issues of Concern

— Role of Money Power in electoral politics
Ø Expenditure monitoring will be more complex and tough
Ø “Paid News” and surrogate advertisements
• Criminalization of electoral landscape
Ø Crying need for reforms
• Dependence on Central Police Force
Ø Lack of faith in State Police
• Urban Apathy
Ø Measures to ensure enhanced participation (IEC Divn.)
• Blaming the Pitch and the Umpire
Ø Rumors about “Russian Ink” in 1971
Ø Blame it on EVM

Issues of Concern : “Paid News”!

• Commission is consulting with Press Council on this issue.
• Commission is also consulting with Editors Guild, Political Parties and other stakeholders.

Wish List for Future

• Criminal free
• No money power
• Foolproof ER
• Full voter participation

Proposed Electoral Reforms

• Debar candidates charged with Offences punishable with 5 years imprisonment or more (sent on15-7-1998)
• Amend section 127-A of RP Act to make it mandatory for the advertiser’s name to be published in advertisements (Sent on 5-07-2004)
• Amend Rule 22 and Rule 29-B of Conduct of Election Rules 1961 to include “None of the Above” button on the EVM (Sent on 10-12-2001)
• Compulsory audit of Political Parties by agencies specified by CAG (sent on 5-07-2004)
• Government sponsored advertisements should be prohibited for six months before the expiry of the term of the House (Sent on 5-07-2004)
• Removal procedure of Election Commissioners to be the same as CEC (Sent on 15-07-1998)
• EC expenditure to be charges and not voted (Sent on 15-07-1998) – A bill was introduced in 1996 but lapsed
• Use of Common electoral rolls by ECI and SECs (Written to all CMs on 22-11-199)
• False declaration in connection with an election to be an offence by amending RP Act (Sent on 15-07-1998) – (False statement for ER enrollment is already an offence)
• Rule making authority to be vested in the Election Commission in consultation with Law Ministry (Sent on 15-07-1998)
• Power to deregister a Political Party (Sent on 15-07-1998)

Plans for Future

1. Greater use of Technology
• A National Electoral Database for –
Ø Better Citizen services and accessibility
Ø Avoidance of duplicates in the database
Ø Better data safety and security
Ø Better Election management
• Use of biometric identification technology for voter identification.

2. Expenditure Monitoring

• The Commission has already directed that Expenditure Statement summary of all winning candidates be put on the CEO’s websites for easy access by public.
• Commission is planning to create an Expenditure Monitoring Division.
• Expenditure details and affidavits of candidates will be made available to CDBT for follow up.

3. Voter Awareness Campaign

• Voting is not compulsory but, no doubt a healthy voter turnout is a visible sign of a vibrant democracy.
• Some States like West Bengal, Kerala and North Eastern States are known for higher voter turnout. But, the urban apathy in general is appalling.
• When voters in the Naxal affected areas of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand defy the boycott call and make a beeline to polling stations many elite Indians of leading metropolis stay at home or go for picnic on the poll day.
• The ECI launched voter awareness campaign to encourage better voter turnout
• Pappu Campaign in Delhi

The above content is part of a presentation and lecture delivered by Dr SY Quraishi, Election Commissioner on India, at ICC recently.

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Anonymous k Balakrishna said...

sir, Though some of the improvements are welcome,the wide gape on independent contestent is not abridged in both presidentialas welall other elections,resulted in unfair and arbitrary,which is against basic fabric of constitution.
Kindly have a relook thankingyou.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Som said...

Thanks Balakrishna for comment. I'll forward it to Election Commission.

1:11 PM  

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