Simultaneous polls need legal framework, logistics: Law Ministry

Following the recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law in December last to hold the two polls together, the Law Ministry had sought the views of the Election Commission.

By: PTI | New Delhi | Published:November 20, 2016 2:36 pm

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strong pitch for simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, the Law Ministry has suggested consideration of the issue from the legal and logistical angles separately. The legal angle would involve constitutional amendments that would be required to be passed before the idea could be implemented on the ground. The ministry has, in a note sent to the “highest level” of the government, split the issue into two parts for consideration.

Following the recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law in December last to hold the two polls together, the Law Ministry had sought the views of the Election Commission.

The Commission, while supporting the idea, had made it clear that it will cost a lot and the Constitution will have to be amended to curtail or extend the term of certain state assemblies.

Now, after analysing the report of the standing committee and the poll panel, the Law Ministry has split the issue into two parts — one dealing with legalities involved and the other regarding logistics, infrastructure and finances.

In its reply to the Law Ministry in May, the Commission said it supports the proposal but cost involved will be to the tune of over Rs 9,000 crore.

Deposing before the parliamentary panel which gave its report on ‘Feasibility of holding simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state Legislative Assemblies’, the Commission had expressed similar “difficulties”.

The Commission has told the government as well as the committee that simultaneous conduct of elections would require large-scale purchase of Electronic Voting Machines and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines.

“For conducting simultaneous elections, the Commission expects that a total of Rs 9,284.15 crore will be needed for procurement of EVMs and VVPATs.

“The machines would also need to be replaced every 15 years which would again entail expenditure. Further, storing these machines would increase the warehousing cost,” the Parliamentary panel had said quoting EC.

While as per electoral law, elections can be held six months prior to the end of the term of a House, the term of the House cannot be extended except during proclamation of Emergency. Ensuring that the term of houses in states are either extended or curtailed to match with that of the Lok Sabha will require amendment to three to four articles of the Constitution.

President’s Rule in states and ‘no confidence motions’ against governments are situations which may occur. The government will have to see how to deal with such situations when it wants all states to have elections along with the Lok Sabha, official sources said.

The production of sufficient number of EVMs by two PSUs — BEL and ECIL will also have to be considered as they need time to procure new machines.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a public debate earlier this month on the issue as frequent elections cost a lot and the election-time code of conduct disrupts governance.

“Leaders from various parties support simultaneous polls in private but do not speak out publicly … it warrants a public debate in which media can play vital role,” said Modi at a post-Diwali function at the BJP office here.

The issue is likely to be discussed in the Lok Sabha during the ongoing winter session as some parties want the issue to be debated following demonetisation.

On March 19, Modi had told a meeting of BJP office-bearers that state elections coupled with local-level polls, spread across virtually every year, often “hinder” execution of welfare measures. He was keen on holding simultaneous elections once in five years.

The government feels that while one-time cost in holding simultaneous polls would be high, the exercise may bring down expenditure involved in ‘election bandobast’ such as deployment of central forces and poll personnel.