The Committee on Electoral Reforms, set up by the Union Ministry of Law and Justice, is expected to come up with a comprehensive set of amendments by August to change the way elections are fought and held in India by freeing the process from criminalisation and corruption.
The final amendments will be ready within three or four months from the date of the national consultation on reforms to be held in Delhi on April 2 and 3, Union Minister for Law and Justice M. Veerappa Moily told the sixth regional consultation held here on Sunday by the Ministry and the Election Commission of India.
Describing elections as the “Gangotri of the democratic process,” he said cleansing the system at the very root is crucial to cleansing the entire system. The criminal justice system should be sanitised alongside the electoral system to make the whole process more effective, he added, emphasising the need to fast-track all corruption cases at the State and Central levels.
“If we can find one instrument to wipe out money power, presence of mafia, power exercised by the criminals, the rest will be alright. We need to eliminate criminals whose ultimate aim is to grab national power through financing political parties,” he said.
Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi outlined the highlights of the proposed reforms. One of the important proposals, he said, was the move to disqualify persons accused of an offence punishable by imprisonment for five years or more from contesting elections, even when trial was pending, provided charges have been framed by a competent court. Though it presented a “legal dilemma” since a person cannot be deemed guilty till convicted, it was important to find ways of checking criminalisation, he added.
Mr. Quraishi emphasised the need to control election expenditure since corruption eventually “becomes a necessity” when a candidate pumps in crores to fight an election. The commission was considering rationalising the expenditure limit in the light of inflation from Rs. 16 lakh to Rs. 10 lakh for Assembly polls and from Rs. 25 lakh to Rs. 40 lakh in the Lok Sabha elections.
The commission has recommended banning door-to-door campaign 48 hours before the polls since money changed hands most during this period. This period is supposed to give voters “some peace to contemplate,” he said, adding that it was practised in Mizoram because of the initiative by the churches.
With transfers of Election Officers on the eve of elections by the party in power being a norm, the commission is contemplating banning transfers immediately before and after elections.
Another important proposal, said Mr. Quraishi, was on banning opinion as well as exit polls, since they lacked credibility. The commission was also contemplating ways of curbing the “paid news” trends.
The Election Commission has recommended an amendment to the Conduct of Elections Rules to provide for the use of “totaliser” for counting of votes cast at more than one polling station where EVMs are used. This would mean that the trend of voting in individual polling station areas does not get divulged and the electors will not be subjected to harassment or victimisation.
Another significant recommendation is on deregistration of political parties that are only “nameplate parties” with no active involvement in politics.
Vivek Tankha, Additional Solicitor-General of India, said that only about 100 out of thousands of registered parties are active.
Mr. Tanka also emphasised the need to make funding to parties more transparent and review the anti-defection law.