"I realise that some of my criticisms may be mistaken; but to refuse to criticize judgements for fear of being mistaken is to abandon criticism altogether... If any of my criticisms are found to be correct, the cause is served; and if any are found to be incorrect the very process of finding out my mistakes must lead to the discovery of the right reasons, or better reasons than I have been able to give, and the cause is served just as well."

-Mr. HM Seervai, Preface to the 1st ed., Constitutional Law of India.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Primer on Election Laws - Contd...

Legislations and Orders – Election – Part II

2. The Representation of the People Act, 1951

The basic legislation that (1) detail the conduct of elections to Parliament and House/s of Legislative Assemblies, (2) prescribe qualifications and disqualifications for membership in the legislative bodies, (3) define and entail consequences for corrupt practices, and (4) provide framework for determination of election disputes.

The Act touches every aspect of the conduct of the elections from prescribing the electoral system to the process. It starts from the issuance of notification of elections to declaration of the returned candidates with meticulous precision.

The legislation has undergone multiplicity of amendments to keep the law relevant to the changing political and technological scenario. For example introduction of Electronic Voting Machine for polls. (Section 61 A)

This legislation covers the administrative machinery of elections (Sections 19 - 29) and the registration of political parties (Sections 29 A to 29 C). A vacuum here is the lack of any provision for deregistration of political parties.

This Act also mandates the declaration of assets and liabilities of returned candidates. (Section 75 A)

Some of the Important Issues

· Disqualification for membership is one of the most contested areas

o Section 8 deals with disqualification due to conviction on certain offences
o One of the most debated issues in election and related laws – criminalisation of politics – is anchored in this provision. (Vohra Committee Report, Law Commission’s 170th Report, Report of the NCRWC, Election Commission’s recommendations on electoral reform)
o The provision disqualifies a person from contesting election on conviction of certain specified offences. The questions here are:
§ Should the disqualification run from the date of FIR/ charge sheeting? The present provision allows one to contest election even from prison
§ Section 8 (4) is also under the line of fire for the exemption it provides for the sitting member of the Legislative Houses. It gives a window period of three months or if a revision or appeal is brought within that period, till the disposal of it by the court
o Section 8 (3) offers another area of debate. It provides that if a person is convicted of an offence other than the prescribed offences (Section 8 (1) (a) to (n) and Section 8 (2), and the period of punishment is more than two years, the disqualification takes effect. One of the issues in Jayalaitha’s case was whether the punishment of two years shall be for an offence/case or is it two years cumulatively in offences/cases. The SC determined the matter holding that it is cumulative years of imprisonment that need to be considered.

· Right to vote

o It has been argued that the right to vote is a statutory right and the right flows from Section 62.

§ Interestingly it is only in the marginal note that the word ‘right’ figures
§ The section is all about the management of the casting of votes. The section is couched in negative language prescribing who shall not vote. One needs to read that all others without the prescribed disqualifications have the right

· Disputes regarding elections

o To be read with Art. 329 (b)
o Jurisdiction with the High Court – through an election petition
o Sections 86 to 99 details out the conduct of the trial of election petitions
o Appeals lie to SC – Section 116 A

· Corrupt practices in election – another contested area, especially in the wake of the hate speech and appeals on the ground of religion

o Section 123
o Bribery, undue influence, appeal on the ground of his religion, promotion of feelings of enmity, propagation or practice of sati, publication of false statements, use of vehicles to transport voters, incurring unauthorised expenditure are the corrupt practices

· Right to information and elections (Sections 33A and B)

o The trajectory
§ The ADR – Election Commission’s Directive to furnish separate affidavits by the candidate – Amendment, bringing in Section 33B – Challenge of constitutionality in PUCL – found unconstitutional

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