The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of India, Dr. Nasim Zaidi has strongly emphasised the need for a comprehensive review of the Representation of the People Act in view of issues and challenges thrown up before the Election Commission while implementing the said law. Dr. Zaidi said “it is also being felt that EC should undertake comprehensive review of the RP Act in view of issues and challenges that have been thrown up before EC from time to time and come up with Draft RP Bill which then go through the motion of examination by competent authority in due course to time.”
Dr Zaidi was delivering his inaugural address at the “National Interactive Conference on Electoral Laws – Strategic vision for future Laws” being organised by the Election Commission of India (ECI). The CEC further said “comprehensive review of the RP Act is overdue for past few decades.”
Dr Zaidi further stated that ECI’s legal research wing is also undertaking comparative study of electoral laws in comparable democracies.
On Electoral reforms, Dr Zaidi said this is another important area which need to be addressed in very systematic manner. He stated that 47 proposals of Electoral reforms sent by the ECI from time to time for law making have also been examined by the Law Commission and many proposals have been endorsed for legislation. The most important proposals for election reforms were mentioned by him relate to:
- decriminalisation of politics,
- prevention of abuse of money,
- transparency in funding of political parties,
- making (election) bribery a cognisable offence,
- criminalising paid news,
- empowering ECI to countermand election in cases of bribery and abuse on the lines of countermanding in event of both capturing.
The Chief Election Commissioner said that these recommendations of the ECI and Law Commission are being scrutinised by a task force in the Law Ministry and the outcome is eagerly awaited.
Dr Zaidi proposed relevant laws should be considered for amendment by Law Ministry once well considered proposals are forwarded by the ECI. He emphasised that this was necessary in order to deal with new issues during conduct of elections in the absence of availability of legal provision in relevant laws. The CEC said “we feel that there should be well defined electoral laws rather than using residuary powers under Art 324 frequently.”
“Of course ECI will not hesitate to invoke Art 324 in the interest of purity of election.” Dr Zaidi added. Giving example of cancellation of elections in two ACs in Tamil Nadu in May 2016 on account of abuse of money, Dr Zaidi said ECI invoked Art 324 and cancelled the elections. “EC soon thereafter proposed amendment in RP Act to have a mirror provision in the law on parallel of countermanding of elections on account of booth capturing. We have requested Law Ministry to revisit our proposal.”, the CEC added. If law would have been amended in time enabling EC to countermand elections on account of bribery, it would have served as deterrence in recently held elections, Dr Zaidi said.
While speaking on the occasion, the Election Commissioner Shri AK Joti highlighted the importance of partnership among Chief Electoral Office & Legal Counsel in handling court cases of election disputes.
In his address, Shri OP Rawat, the Election Commissioner said that legal frameworks must be re-evaluated and improved as lessons are learnt and countries advance through more substantial steps on their democratic paths.
On the occasion, the CEC and Election Commissioners also released compilation of 47 proposals of electoral reforms sent by the ECI from time to time to the Government for law making.
The Conference was attended by senior officers of the ECI, Chief Electoral officers and legal counsels of the ECI from all states.