Analysing the post COVID 19 reforms undertaken & proposed by the Election Commission of India
The Election Commission of India is a heavy name dressed in charms for obvious reasons. It isn't merely fancy to the ears but, fancily chief in its prime doings. Yes, the Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional body that administers the election processes of the country (on national and state levels only). The body ensures the holy grail of making elections accessible, fair and timely and was conceived out of the Article 324 of the Constitution of India. Recently, it has been in the air with an active tittle tattle for the new changes it has resorted to or would resort to in the near future.
Primarily, the commission has been in the news on account of a new Election Commissioner. Mr Rajiv Kumar was appointed by the President of India in the last week of August for the office in question.
Secondly, and more importantly, it has been in news due to the persistent push and pressure it has been putting on the centre for reforms and modish reorientations. Most of these reforms and make-over centric recommendations have been shouldered by the centre.
The Election commission of India has been successfully conducting elections in the territorial portals of the country since 1952. However, the India of 2020 has changed in every thinkable and unthinkable realm, which is why reforms are necessary to keep up with the times. Some of the very important reforms and the recommendations that may become active reforms have been explained furthermore.
Aadhaar comes to the rescue
The government has undertaken the linkage of Aadhaar cards to voter ID cards after an Election Commission recommendation. This recommendation was considered to prepare error free electoral rolls in a more standardized manner. It's difficult to authenticate and shuffle between numerous documents held by a citizen, which is why uniformity is necessary. The Aadhaar and Voter ID link would give an impetus to an easier, uniform, and authenticated document trail thereby obliterating the possibility of document duplicity. At the same time, this provision would magnify the chances of having 'remote votes'.
The Law Ministry had given a nod to the Aadhaar - Voter ID Card link and suggested amendments to two pivotal acts, Aadhaar Act 2016 and Representation of the People Act 1950. Post accepting the proposal to give it legal backing to collect Aadhaar data, the Law Ministry is learnt to have asked the poll panel to heave that the data is protected at multiple levels.The Election Commission recently listed out ways to protect the data from possible leakages.
Publicising candidates' criminal antecedents
The Election Commission last week, ahead of Bihar Polls, released the guidelines specifying a timeline for the publicity of a candidate's criminal antecedents by the candidates or the political parties through newspapers and television. The first publicity must happen within four days of the last day of withdrawal, followed by the second publicity which is to be done within the fifth to eight day of the last day of withdrawal. The final publicity is to be done on the ninth day to the last day of campaigning. This is being engineered to enable the voters to make an informed choice during polling.
Changes in campaigning budgets
The Election Commission has proposed to swell the campaign expenditure limit for all the upcoming elections by a 10% slab due to the constraints posed by the Covid Pandemic. In the recent context, last week, the Law Ministry received a proposal from the Election Commission on amending Rule 90 of the Conduct of Election Rules 1961 to raise the expenditure cap ahead of the Assembly elections in Bihar. This implies that the current expenditure ceiling, placed at ₹28 lakhs for Bihar will surge to ₹30.8 lakhs incase the proposal is accepted. The EC has argued that the campaigning would be challenging amidst the pandemic keeping in head all safety measures and restriction on rallies. The pandemic edition guidelines for campaigning were announced by it earlier this month that capped the size of campaign squads and reduced car fleet numbers from 10 to 5 for the roadshows. The seriousness of the pandemic is realised universally and Covid protocols are being adhered to.
The Election Commission has applied for having more than one qualification date in a year for a person to become a voter. Currently, January 1st is the designated date every year for a person to qualify as a voter and enroll thereafter. The Election Commission wants multiple dates so that more people turning 18 years of age can apply to become voters throughout the year.
To put an end to election corruption, the Election Commission has proposed to declare bribery in election processes, a cognisable electoral offence. Any partakers could be 'seriously' charged for the same if found guilty for producing false affidavits, making paid news, or buying votes. It has also proposed the use of the Liberhan Commission Recommendations to penalise any parties that seek religion as a pawn in the electoral processes.
Another proposal that the Election Commission pressed for is making electoral law gender neutral and inclusive towards the armed forces personnels. As of now, a male army officer’s wife is sanctioned to be enrolled as a service voter (and cast vote in the place of the posting which would be outside of the enrolled constituency) but a female army officer’s husband is not (according to the provisions in the electoral law). There's a bill that has previously decayed following the dissolution of the previous Lok Sabha which proposed to replace the term ‘wife’ with ‘spouse’, thus making the provision gender neutral.
All members of the armed forces; the central and state police forces posted outside their state and employees of the Centre posted outside India are eligible to be enrolled as service voters.
The Election Commission has requested to have their budgetary allocation linked to the Consolidated Fund of India. The budget and administrative expenses of the Election Commission of India should also be charged on the Consolidated Fund of India like the budget of the Supreme Court, Comptroller and Auditor General of India and the UPSC, and not subject to debates and cuts by Parliament thereby making it more independent of the executive fiat. Even the Pakistan Election Commission proudly boasts about their expenditure being charged on the Consolidated Fund of Pakistan within the international fora .
In a nutshell
All of these reforms alongside many others have recently seen their genesis. However, many more await consideration. The Election Commission of India keeps up with the robust task of superintending elections. Simultaneously, it stays true to the ethos of our national spirit by holding tight onto three key words from our constitutional preamble namely 'sovereign' , 'democratic' and 'republic'. It is indubitably integral. The Election Commission of India deserves more glory and gratitude for all its operations.
By Joieta Banerji
Joieta is majoring in Political Science at Hindu College. She is in her third year forthwith. A political science enthusiast, she likes to stay qui vive with international happenings and geopolitics. She loves to write opinionated pieces seasoned with rhetorics and sardonic wit. She booms on coffee.