Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine
Ethics and Integrity
The debate on electoral reforms in the Rajya Sabha on March
22 was heartwarming — the civility with which it was conducted the icing on the
cake. Members of political parties tend to avoid discussions on electoral
reforms, except in private conversations. But the participation in the debate on
that day was so enthusiastic that the deputy chairman had to extend the
discussion to twice the time that is normally allotted to a short duration
discussion — two-and-a half hours to five hours.
The immediate provocation for the debate was BSP supremo
Mayawati’s allegation of manipulation of EVMs in the recent UP assembly
elections. As expected, issues about EVMs took up a major part of the
discussion. While a return to ballot papers was mentioned, most speakers
demanded the use of VVPATs (voter-verified paper audit trail) in the forthcoming
elections to the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assemblies, and eventually in the
Lok Sabha elections of 2019.
In a judgement in 2013 (Subramanian Swamy versus ECI), the
Supreme Court had commended the Election Commission for taking a series of steps
to introduce VVPATs, including conducting an all-party meeting in 2011. The
meeting had unanimously approved the idea of introducing VVPATs. The EC had then
ordered the two EVM companies to start manufacturing the machines and a field
test was conducted in 2011 in five climatic zones. Our effort was to introduce
these machines in the 2012 UP assembly elections and four other state assembly
elections. That couldn’t happen as the field tests revealed snags, which took
almost a year to fix.
Holding that the paper trail is an “indispensable requirement
of free and fair elections”, the Supreme Court directed the Government of India
to provide the requisite funds for procuring the VVPAT machines. Appreciating
the EC’s efforts, the court approved its plan to roll out VVPATs in phases till
More than three years after the court’s directive and despite
10 reminders from the EC, the government has not released the requisite funds.
So far, the EC has just 52,000 machines (against the nearly 20 lakh that are
required in the country) which were deployed in the recent elections. Meanwhile,
two contempt of court petitions have been filed against the government and the
EC. After the unanimous demand of the members of Rajya Sabha, cutting across
party lines, it is hoped that the government will be compelled to release the
funds without further delay.
The other major concern across parties was about paid news.
Members demanded that it should be made a cognisable criminal offence.
Use of money power in elections was a serious concern as
well, with most speakers demanding state funding of elections. They also
demanded a ban on corporate donations. Several members demanded a ceiling on
expenditure by political parties to bring down the cost of elections. This is
essential to ensure a level-playing field for all contestants.
A very significant subject that was discussed on March 22 was
the long-prevalent first-past-the-post system in which the “winner takes all”.
There is growing concern that the system can lead to majoritarianism. The
members wanted this system to be replaced by the proportional representation
system which can ensure that every section of the citizenry gets due
representation. It was suggested that this will bring down the cost of holding
elections and reduce the divisive nature of electoral campaigns.
The prime minister’s proposal for simultaneous elections came
in for a lot of attack. It was seen as a surreptitious attempt to bring in the
presidential form of government. Some speakers said it is against India’s
federal polity, others believed it will go against the basic structure of the
constitution. There was unanimity on banning opinion polls. Many members wanted
the abolition of the provision that allows a candidate to stand for election in
more than one constituency. A few members mentioned reservation for women,
voting by NRIs and migrants and the need to make the model code of conduct more
liberal. Many members suggested the constitution of a parliamentary committee,
with experts from outside parliament, with the mandate of suggesting ways to
carry out these reforms. However, nobody was interested in talking about the
increasing criminalisation of politics, which is the EC’s — and the nation’s —
most important concern.
The law minister’s reply to the debate, as expected, was
largely confined to the EVMs. He defended these machines to the hilt. Strangely,
however, he did not give any assurance about the release of funds for the VVPAT
machines. It’s a pity that the issue may be decided in the contempt petitions
pending in the Supreme Court.
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