Law Commission of India issues Consultation Paper on Electoral Reforms

Law Commission of India issues Consultation Paper on Electoral Reforms

In a noteworthy development, the Law Commission of India has sought views of the political parties, civil society, experts and other stakeholders on Electoral Reforms. On a reference by the Government to consider this issue and suggest suitable changes in the law, the Law Commission has issued a Consultation Paper. The Commission, headed by Justice D.K. Jain, has observed that the main area of concern is criminalisation of politics. In other words, whether a charge-sheeted person should be disqualified from contesting elections.

The Consultation Paper pointedly states: “It is important to bear in mind that many a times, for being in power, the democratic process is distorted by the conduct of the elements amongst political parties, elected representatives and different sections of society, who try to influence the process of governance for purely partisan ends.  That is why, over a period of time, regulation of the conduct of political parties, election expenditure and corrupt practices in the conduct of elections attracted the attention of the civil society and of the Government
.”

It further says, “While some constructive steps have been taken through significant amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, these reforms have failed to keep up a consistent pace with the growth and strengthening of the democratic values. Issues pertaining to election malpractices seem to come into the limelight in times of brazen and gross violations of procedures but soon fade into oblivion. Therefore, a review of the laws and procedures in light of new developments and complexities is necessary.” 


In terms of the present scheme as provided in section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, disqualification is triggered on conviction for the offences enumerated therein, which requires proof beyond reasonable doubt. In this connection, Justice Jain has said “for preserving the integrity of the election process, there is need to travel beyond the domain of criminality and evaluate the fitness of a candidate on the touchstone of certain enumerated standards.”


Some of the critical issues on which the Commission has sought views are:

  • Whether the existing provisions (constitutional or statutory) relating to disqualification need to be amended?
  • Whether disqualification should be triggered upon conviction, as it exists today, or upon framing of charges by court, or upon filing of charge sheet?
  • Whether certain offences ought to be brought within the purview of law for disqualification.
  • Whether there should be state funding at all for elections. If yes, what should be the criteria for, and quantum of, funding?
  • How can the integrity of election be protected from being affected by ‘paid news’?
  • What measures need to be taken within the constitutional framework of free speech, where print or electronic media owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by political parties, candidates or vested interests broadcast prejudiced news in such a manner as to influence free and fair elections?
  • Whether any restriction on governmental advertisements highlighting its achievements for a period of six months prior to the date of expiry of the term of the House should be imposed?


Notably, as per the National Election Watch and Association For Democratic Reforms (ADR) “Report on criminal and financial details of the MPs of 15th Lok Sabha (2009)”, there were 450 tainted constituencies where at least one tainted candidate (candidate having criminal background) contested the elections.  A PIL filed in December 1999 by ADR had culminated in the Supreme Court passing an order on March 13, 2003 requiring disclosure of criminal, financial and educational background of all contesting candidates.



Image from here.