THE Election Commission has supported the idea of holding simultaneous elections to the Parliament and State Assemblies, in a letter sent to the Law Ministry in the first week of May, sources told The Indian Express.
This is the first time the poll watchdog has officially expressed its willingness to conduct Lok Sabha and state polls together.
“In so far as the Election Commission is concerned, the issues involved in holding simultaneous elections are not insurmountable for it. If there is political consensus and will across the board, needless to say that the Commission supports the idea of considering simultaneous elections,” the two-page letter states.
This communication, sources said, was sent in response to the Law Ministry seeking the EC’s comments on the 79th Report of the Department-related Parliamentary Committee on the ‘Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies’.
The Commission’s remarks are significant against the backdrop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently pitching for concurrent polls to panchayats, urban local bodies, states and the Parliament at a BJP meeting in March.
Conduct of simultaneous polls to the Parliament and state assemblies is also a promise in the party’s manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.
The poll panel, however, has flagged several logistical and financial challenges that have to be overcome before it can prepare to hold state and central elections together.
For starters, the government will have to amend the Constitution to either curtail or extend the term of some of the state Assemblies to enable the EC to draw up a common poll schedule.
Secondly, such an exercise will require large-scale purchase of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines. According to the Commission, it would need Rs 9,284.15 crore to procure the additional EVMs and VVPATs. Moreover, the machines will have to be replaced every 15 years which would again entail more expenditure.
The EC will also need more central armed forces personnel for deployment at separate polling booths meant for Lok Sabha and state assembly elections.
The 79th Report of the Department-related Parliamentary Committee has justified the simultaneous conduct of polls on several grounds, including a huge cut in expenditure incurred for conduct of separate elections every year.
That apart, the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct at regular intervals, the report states, puts many activities of the government on hold and affects governance.
Thirdly, concurrent polls would free central armed forces and manpower that is deployed at regular intervals for election duty. “For example, the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which were held along with State Assembly Elections in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, was spread over nine phases and 1077 in situ companies and 1349 mobile companies of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) were deployed,” the report states.
The concept of simultaneous polls isn’t new to the country. The first general elections to the Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies were held together in 1951-52. This practice continued in the three subsequent general elections held in 1957, 1962 and 1967. But with the premature dissolution of some State Assemblies in 1968 and 1969, this cycle was disrupted.
In 1970, the Lok Sabha itself was dissolved early and fresh elections were held in 1971. As a result, for the last 48 years, there have been separate polls for electing the central and state governments.