On the eve of the end of its term, the Law Commission put out a draft report on simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies with a public appeal to “have further discussions and examination on the matter, involving all the stakeholders” before making final recommendations to the government.
It said it was doing this with the “intention to initiate a healthy and sustainable debate on the issue” since simultaneous polls are “not possible within the existing framework of the Constitution”.
Justice (retired) B S Chauhan, chairman of the Commission, told The Indian Express: “Our term is getting over on Friday. There was no time to finalise it. This is a serious issue, and needs wider consultation with the public and Constitutional experts. But we did not want our work and research on it wasted. We are leaving it for a future Law Commission to ponder upon.”
“We have raised seven fundamental questions and put them in the public domain. We are very happy to have been able to start a robust discussion on this. Fifty MPs came to argue. We want to strengthen the faith of the people in the system. We did not want to give a report to favour anyone. We did not want to submit a half-baked report,” he said.
In its draft report, the Commission has recommended “holding of simultaneous polls” but underlined “the Commission is aware of the fact that holding simultaneous elections is not possible within the existing framework of the Constitution”. It has, therefore, suggested “certain inevitable Constitutional amendments”.
“The Commission has ensured that the amendments to the Constitution and other statutes are kept to the barest minimum… the Commission recommends holding of simultaneous elections to House of the People and the State Legislative Assemblies (except the State of Jammu and Kashmir),” it stated.
Raising questions, the panel has asked if simultaneous elections “tinker with democracy, basic structure of the Constitution or the federal polity of the country”
“Most of the participants in the consultations raised the issue that holding simultaneous elections will adversely affect the above three concepts. However, none could explain as to how and in what manner these principles would be violated…,” the panel said.
The panel has asked about the appointment of the Prime Minister or Chief Minister in the event of a hung Parliament or assembly. It has pointed out that various committees have suggested that in such a situation, the appointment of the PM such be done in the manner in which a Speaker is appointed. The Commission wants to know that if this process is adopted, will it violate the anti-defection law.
It has asked if Parliament needs to amend the anti-defection law: “Will such an appointment or selection of the Prime Minister/Chief Minister by consensus amongst the political parties/elected members require amendment to Tenth Schedule to the Constitution? If so, to what extent?”.
The highlights of the draft report on simultaneous elections are:
* Such an exercise will save public money; help reduce the burden on the administrative set-up and security forces; ensure better implementation of government policies; and, the administrative machinery will be continuously engaged in developmental activities rather than in electioneering.
* Recommends amendment to Article 172 of the Constitution to curtail or extend the term of state assemblies. As a first option, elections to 12 assemblies and one Union Territory (with legislature) can be synchronised with the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
* Simultaneous elections in 2019: Elections to assemblies of five states — Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Telangana are due with the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 and, therefore, stand synchronised.
“If there is political will, and consensus is arrived at, elections to four State Assemblies, viz., Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and NCT of Delhi (Union Territory with Legislature), can also be held along with the House of the People and the five States… in 2019, subject to their voluntarily agreeing to take recourse to Article 172(1) or by the operation of law.”
In the case of four other states where elections are due in early January 2019 (Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan) and end of 2018 (Mizoram) “extension of up to six months is required to attain synchronisation with the elections to the House of the People in 2019, which will entail amendment to Article 172 of the Constitution”.
* Simultaneous elections in 2021: In the remaining states, holding simultaneous elections is “impracticable”. Elections to these states should be held in 2021 “which will be approximately midway of the term of the House of the People, assuming that the term of the Seventeenth Lok Sabha begins in mid of 2019. In such a scenario, the maximum period by which any State Assembly is to be extended will be by thirteen months (in the case of Bihar) and the maximum period of curtailment is seventeen months (in the case of Karnataka).”
* The panel has given a second option — of holding elections twice in a period of five years.
“The elections to twelve State Legislative Assemblies and one Union Territory (with Legislature), are synchronised along with the elections to the House of the People in 2019 and the remaining sixteen State Legislative Assemblies and one Union Territory (with Legislature) by the end of 2021, the elections will stand synchronised in such a manner that they are held only twice in five years, repeating the cycle of the elections to the House of the People and thirteen States (including one Union Territory with Legislature) in mid-2024 and elections to seventeen States (including one Union Territory with Legislature) by the end of 2026. This will result in elections only twice in a period of five years.”
Will study report closely: EC
When his comments were sought, Election Commissioner Sunil Arora told The Indian Express: “There are two fundamental aspects to this issue — desirability and steps required for implementation. As far as the former is concerned, simultaneous polls are a desired goal, as was articulated by the EC earlier during 2015-16 itself. There also has been historicity for simultaneous polls for a very long time. However, there are legal, Constitutional as well as operational issues, after the old system ceased to exist. The Law Commission has also upheld the EC’s view. Since the report of the Honourable Law Commission has been released today, it shall be closely studied.”