Electoral Reforms: Strengthening The Office Of The Election Commission Of India

The Election Commission of India was established in the year 1950 and functions with the principal objective of defining and controlling the course of elections held for State legislatures, the Parliament and the offices of the Vice-President and the President of the country. In organising the elections of the largest democracy of the world, the Election Commission of India plays a crucial and decisive role and must ensure the conduct of free and fair elections. ECI is empowered to issue the Model Code of Conduct before every election which is to be followed by the different candidates and parties so that the decorum of the democracy is maintained. .It can take appropriate actions in case of any violations of the Model Code of Conduct. It can also appoint the tribunals to take decision on the doubts and disputes related to the elections conducted for state legislatures and the Parliament.

While Articles 84, 103, 173,192, 243K and 243ZA of our Constitution mandates qualification and disqualification of membership of State Legislature and Parliament, Article 324 stipulates guidelines with regard to Superintendence, direction and control of elections vested to the Election Commission of India. However, there is still a lot of scope of enlargement to manage the important exercise in our democracy and some of the main areas are evaluated as under to envisage a detailed study and this paper envisages a new framework for effective management and governance of Election process where the Office of the Election Commission of India is not dictated by the Executive at any point of time.

Election Commission of India is an Institution vested with powers guaranteed under our Constitution and is vested with the supreme powers to oversee the functions designated for the following duties in general for both Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies:

  1. Delimitation process for Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies.
  2. The administrative machinery involved in the preparation, maintenance and revision of the electoral rolls.
  3. Computerization of Electoral rolls throughout the country.
  4. Authorized signatory for issuance of Electors' Photo Identity cards.
  5. Drawing Electoral event and decide the Election with its' approval for constitutional amendment.
  6. Scheduling of Elections.
  7. Scrutinize the eligibility criteria for acceptance as candidates to contest any elections.
  8. Final Authority for approval of nomination and advice the election campaign process.
  9. Devise Model Code of Conduct by laying broad guidelines for candidates engaging in Election campaign.
  10. Impose statutory limits for Election expenses for candidates contesting elections.
  11. Allotment of symbols for candidates and printing of names and photographs of candidates on Ballot papers both for registered parties and as well as all other candidates.
  12. Procurement and Management of Electronic Voting Machines(EVMs)
  13. Management of VVPAT – Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail.
  14. Phased Implementation of NOTA option as per Supreme Court's direction (2004) and impart requisite training to all field level officials including the polling personnel about the same.
  15. Scrutiny of Affidavit related to criminal antecedents, assets, liabilities, qualification of the candidates exercising due diligence and ensure that all details are validated as per guidelines of Supreme Court (2013).
  16. To capture all critical events related to filing of nominations, scrutiny thereof and allotment of symbols, First Level Checking, preparations and storage of Electronic Voting Machines, important public meetings, processions etc. during campaign, process of dispatching of postal ballot papers, polling process in identified vulnerable polling stations, storage of polled EVMs, counting of votes etc. through videography and make available for public.
  17. Devise an effective Communication Plan coordinating with Telecommunication officials for the smooth conduct of elections and to enable concurrent intervention and mid-course correction on the poll day.
  18. To deploy and engage Police and Para Military forces ensuring conduct of peaceful and impartial elections.
  19. Manage Pre-poll tasks including Guarding polling stations, polling material, poll personnel and the poll process, Guarding trouble spots. Patrolling duty on assigned routes covering an identified cluster of polling stations, Patrolling duty as ‘flying squads' in a defined area, with an element of surprise and Escort duty of polled EVMs. 
  20. Manage Post-poll tasks including Guard duty of polled EVMs till the counting process is over. Ensuring the maintenance of law and order for victory processions of the winning candidate. Robust security measures were ensured in every part of the election process and more especially in vulnerable areas so that there was no intimidation of any voter. Security personnel from various forces were deployed and on constant move across the country during the 10 poll days of the elections.
  21. Identification of vulnerable areas/communities of respective polling stations. Meetings with community, local intelligence, etc. Identify source of threat and intimidation. Identify names of people who are likely to start such offence of undue influence.
  22. Ensure conduct of free and fair elections by creating an atmosphere in which each elector is able to access the polling station without being obstructed or being unduly influenced/intimidated by anybody.
  23. Appointment of General Observers to keep a close watch on every stage of the electoral process to ensure free and fair elections.
  24. Effective monitoring of  Election expenditure of candidates through formation of Flying Squads, Static Surveillance Teams, Video Surveillance Teams, involvement of Investigation Directorates of Income Tax Dept., etc. State Excise Departments and Police authorities are asked to monitor production, distribution, sale and storage of liquor and other intoxicants during the election process. 
  25. To deal with the issue of ‘Paid News', a mechanism has been laid out with three tier of Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (MCMC) at District, State and ECI level.
  26. Deployment of Police observers to monitor all activities relating to force deployment, law and order situation and co-ordinate between Civil and Police administration to ensure free and fair election.
  27. Deployment of Micro Observers to observe the poll proceedings in the polling stations on the poll day in selected critical polling stations.
  28. Devise comprehensive measures for voters' education during the Special Roll Revision process in the state.
  29. To draw a comprehensive District election plan including the route plan and communication plan as per prescribed standards.
  30. To arrange supply Photo voter slips to all electors.
  31. To manage a Call Center and Website based Complaint Redressal Mechanism and initiate action of every compliant.
  32. Provide Basic Minimum facilities at all polling stations like permanent ramps, electricity, drinking water, toilets (separate for male and female), furniture, signage, wheel chairs etc. at Polling Stations
  33. Formulate a structured plan of cascaded training for election related personnel.
  34. To devise and formulate IT Initiatives under Electoral Roll Management System(ERMS) Voter facilitation Apps like MATDATA, MATDAAN (Polling) App for Poll Day Monitoring, Complaint portal under SAMADHAN (Redressal),  permission seeking APP under SUVIDHA (Convenience), Management of Vehicles under SUGAM (EASY), Database for police and polling personnel under ELECON, SMS Poll Monitoring Apps, etc.

NEW POWERS ENVISAGED FOR ELECTION COMMISSION OF INDIA

The Election commission of India is an autonomous body which is supposed to be insulated from political interference and executive influence. However, our Constitution has empowered this body to supervise the political bodies and candidates but results in lot of controversies and complaints of partisan. The 10th Chief Election Commissioner ruthlessly and boldly implemented many modern electoral reforms time has become ripe that all reforms recommended by Law Commission pending unimplemented for ages needs a fresh look as under::

  1. “Election Procedure Code” (EPC) should be framed under a separate new legal framework governing elections incorporating all the relevant contents of the present Election Laws on land including Disqualification laws, pending Electoral Reforms and Recommendations of Law Commission of India, Rules & Regulations prescribed by ECI under Model Code of Conduct and guidelines advised by Supreme Court on various election related disputes. This must serve as an exhaustive law book for Election process in our country.
  2. Office of the Chief Election Commissioner must be instituted under specific Article in our constitutional framework.
  3. The Chapters or Parts or Articles in the EPC should exhaustively cover the laws related to Appointment of Election Commissioners, Election Finance, Regulation of all Political Parties, Defection of Members, Regulations for News Media and Political Advertisement, Opinion Polls, Rights & Duties of Voters, Election Petitions, NOTA, Right to Recall/Reject, Government Sponsored Advertisements, Rules for all Contesting Candidates, Independent candidates, etc.
  4. A Provident Fund Type Public Trust should be floated and corpus created from a fixed contribution of all registered political parties in the country and should be managed by Trustees/Representatives of all Registered Political parties headed by a former RBI Governor or Secretary level rank retired bureaucrat from the Finance Ministry. EPC should regulate the management of funds and subject to audit by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India. All financial statements including daily inflows and outflows should be transparently published in the website of Election Commission of India for information to all citizens.
  5. At the time of notification of Elections, every contesting candidate whose nomination has been accepted by ECI should deposit the prescribed sum including the total election expenditure fixed by the Commission into this ECI Trust and periodical disbursement during the period of election campaign should be fully controlled and managed by ECI instead of fixing a limit of expenses on candidates. This would ensure that funds are not only routed into the Trust transparently but would ensure that the prescribed limit on election expenses is fully adhered.
  6. A New Exclusive Election Tribunal/Court Chaired by Judge having the power and jurisdiction of High Court should be constituted at every State Capital where every election related disputes should be adjudicated within a time framework of three months.
  7. Eligibility criteria for contesting candidates should be revamped completely to ensure that none from any past or present criminal background files nomination papers to contest any elections. Age limit should be fixed as 25 years minimum and 60 years maximum and must be exempted for all first time contestants.
  8. Security norms for conduct of elections including deployment of police and para military personnel for election process should be statutorily defined depending upon the category of area, voter population, riot antecedents, etc.
  9. Stringent penalties including life-time ban for candidates should be imposed under suitable provisions for all candidates engaged in the  abuse of ‘Money Power' in election and misuse of Social and Mainstream media to spread misinformation that creates communal disharmony and violence for peaceful elections or violating the prescribed Model Code of Conduct.
  10. Powers of ECI should ensure that it creates a complete level playing field for all candidates contesting in any elections irrespective of the political or financial background of the contestants.

It's high time to strengthen the ECI by giving equal constitutional protection to all members and staff of the Commission and restore the golden era of Mr. T.N. Seshan, the 10th CEC who was credited with cleaning up Indian elections and enforced the model code of conduct for the first time invoking fear in politicians for his honest and ruthless approach.

 

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