Meeting of Secretary Legislative Department with Commission on Electoral Reforms and other Issues

Meeting of Secretary Legislative Department with Commission on Electoral Reforms and other Issues 

            The Commission held a meeting on 5th January, 2016 with the Secretary, Legislative Department, Ministry of Law & Justice in the Secretariat of the Commission to discuss proposals on Electoral Reforms sent by ECI and other issues such as EVM procurement.

The Commission has made proposals to the Law Ministry from time to time since 1998 on Electoral Reforms.  These proposal were referred by the government to the Law Commission for its consideration in entirety.  The Law Commission submitted reports to the government in the beginning of 2015.In this regard, the Chief Election Commissioner had also written letter to Law Minister in December, 2015 inviting his attention to the pending proposals and emphasising the need of early action thereon.  Hon’ble Law Minister has responded and informed that a Task Force has been constituted in the Legislative Department to work out a roadmap for implementation of the recommendations. He has also mentioned that Election Commission may segregate those recommendations which would require amendments only in the rules and forward a proposal in this regard along with a draft notification for consideration of the Legislative Department.
To begin with, the discussions during the meeting held on 5th January, 2016, covered following identified issues. Other reform proposals will be taken up in subsequent meetings.
·         Budget of the Commission to be ‘charged’ as in the case of the Budget of Comptroller and Auditor General of India and the Union Public Service Commission.
·         Independent Secretariat for the Commission
·         Open Ballot Voting in the case of elections to Legislative Council in the election by MLAs as in the case of Rajya Sabha election

In the case of elections to Rajya Sabha, voting is by open-ballot, i.e. MLAs belonging to political parties are required to show their ballot paper, after casting vote, to the authorised representative of the party. The Commission’s proposal is that in the case of elections to Legislative Council (in the States where the Council is in existence) by MLAs also, voting should be through open ballot, as the electors in both these elections are the same, namely; the MLAs. Of six states which have bicameral system, response of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana & Bihar have been received supporting open ballot system.

·         Amendment of law to restore cycle of biennial retirement in Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils
The Constitutional provisions envisage that 1/3rd of the members of Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils shall retire after every two years. However, in some states, the biennial retirement cycle has broken with the result that in some states all the members retire at the same time.

·         Amendment to Rules to provide for use of Totalizer for counting of votes
As per the present rules, votes in the EVMs are to be counted polling station wise, which leads to situations where voting pattern in various localities/pockets become known to everyone. There is a view that this can result in victimization and/or discrimination and intimidation of electors of particular localities. To address this issue, at the instance of the Commission, the manufacturing firms of EVMs have developed a device called “Totalizer” which can be used for taking out the results of voting in a group of 14 EVMs without revealing the votes in individual EVMs. For using Totalizer for counting, the rules need to be amended. 

·         Multiple qualifying dates for enrolment in electoral roll
As per the existing provisions of the Law, only a person who completes 18 years of age as on 1st January of the year is eligible to be enrolled in the electoral roll for that year. A person turning 18 after 1st January has to wait till the next year for getting enrolled. The Commission proposed that instead of only one qualifying date for enrolment, there should be 4 different dates (1st January, 1st April, 1st July and 1st October) for enrolment so that maximum number of people can be enrolled. The Law Ministry suggested that instead of 4 dates, we may introduce 2 dates. Accordingly, the Commission proposed that 1st January and 1st July may be specified as qualifying dates for enrolment by amending the Act. It is understood that the above proposal of the ECI is being favourably and actively processed by the Law Ministry.

·         Administrative and budgetary provisions for purchasing EVMs and VVPATs
The Commission is required to order purchase of EVMs to replace the old EVMs which have outlived their lifespan or which will have become so by the time of the next General Election to Lok Sabha in 2019. The purchase has to be made in batches over a period of time as the manufacturing firms have limitation to the production capacity. The Commission has been taking up the matter with the Govt. for providing budgetary provisions for purchasing the EVMs and VVPATs over the next three years.CEC also wrote to Law Minister. It has been informed by Law Minister that the matter has also been taken up with Finance Minister by Law Minister for urgent action.

·         Constitutional protection for all members of the Commission and independent Secretariat for the Commission
In 1998, the Commission had proposed that the Constitutional protection provided to the Chief Election Commissioner should be provided to the Election Commissioners also as the protection envisaged is for the Institution and not for individuals. The Commission has reiterated the proposal on subsequent occasions.

Among  many pending proposals, there are some proposals that involved amendment of the Rules only which is within the jurisdiction of the Ministry.  This Rules were also discussed for taking early action. Following proposals were accordingly discussed.

·   Proposal to amend Form 24 A (format in which Political Parties are required to submit their annual statement of donations received):- The proposal of the Commission is to add a column for mentioning the total donations received in amounts less than Rs. 20,000also.

·              Amendment of the Forms for applying for inclusion, deletion and correction in Electoral Roll: - The Commission has recommended that the existing forms  of enrolment , correction, addition , deletion and transposition in the  electoral roll ( Form 6, 6A , 7 , 8 and 8A)  should be made more simple and user friendly and accordingly suggested changes in the forms.  It has been agreed for the appropriate amendments in the Rules at the meeting.

·              Amendment of format of nomination form for contesting election: - The Commission has recommended that the nomination form should contain a provision for affixing the photograph of the candidate and also specific declaration by the candidate that he/she is a citizen of India and has not taken up citizenship of any other country.

·              Electoral Trust :- Under the present law electoral trusts can possible raise funds from foreign sources because they are not expressly prohibited under law. ECI has recommended to the Finance and Law Ministries to make specific law prohibiting electoral trusts accepting funds from foreign sources so that they can not able to transfer the funds to the political parties., Which will be in compliance with the provisions of Sec 29 (B) of the R.P. Act. It is understood that proposal is being actively considered by the Law Ministry.

The Commission and Secretary, Legislative Department have also agreed to review on quarterly basis the progress of processing of proposals on Electoral Reforms pertaining to amendment of constitution, Act & Rules.

Election Commission of India
New Delhi 7th January, 2016

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