Issues Over Delimitation In The Northeast
- A former legal advisor to the Election Commission (EC) has red-flagged the Centre’s order setting up a Delimitation Commission for Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam and Nagaland, calling it “unconstitutional” and “illegal”.
Chronology of Event
- The last delimitation exercise, that started in 2002 and ended in 2008, had kept out Arunachal, Assam, Manipur and Nagalanddue to apprehensions over use of the 2001 Census.
- The Delimitation Act of 2002 was amended on January 14, 2008, to empower the President to postpone the exercise in these states.
- Subsequently, Parliament had decided that instead of creating another Delimitation Commission for the limited purpose of redrawing seat boundaries in the four northeastern states, the exercise there would be carried out by the EC.
- Section 8A of the RP Act 1950 was introduced for this purpose.
- In February, 2020, government rescinded a 2008 presidential order which had stalled the exercise by the Delimitation Commission in Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
- Finally, in March, 2020, the Delimitation Commission headed by former Supreme Court judge RanjanaPrakash Desai was constituted to not only redraw constituencies in proportion to the population in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir as per the 2011 Census under the J&K Reorganisation Act 2019, but also in these NE states but with 2001 Census data under the Delimitation Act of 2002.
Why the new Delimitation Commission has been called “illegal” and “unconstitutional”?
- In 2008, after the President deferred delimitation, the Parliament decided that instead of creating another Delimitation Commission in future for the limited purpose of redrawing seat boundaries in the four northeastern states, the exercise there would be carried out by the EC.
- The Representation of the People Act 1950 was amended, and Section 8A was introduced for this purpose.
- The Law Ministry’s notification of March, 2020, violates the Representation of the People Act, 1950.
- Since the RP Act, 1950 clearly states that delimitation in the four northeastern states, when held, would fall within the EC’s remit, the Centre should not have notified a separate Delimitation Commission for this purpose.
- Hence, any delimitation exercise in these states by the new Delimitation Commission would be declared void by the courts and, subsequently, result in wastage of huge precious public funds.
Will delimitation change the number of seats in these states?
- No, there is a freeze until 2026 on the number of LokSabha and Assembly seats in any state.
- Delimitation will only redraw the boundaries of seats in each state, and can rework the number of reserved seats for SCs and STs.
- However, because of exceptional past circumstances, Jammu & Kashmir’s Assembly seats will now increase from 107 to 114, which is expected to increase Jammu region’s representation.
Process of Delimitation
Secrecy Of Ballots
- On 21st June, 2022, in a significant judgment, the Supreme Court(SC) held that Secrecy of ballot is the cornerstone of free and fair elections.
- The judgment came on an appeal against the Allahabad High Court (HC) decision setting aside the voting of a no-confidence motion in a zila panchayat in Uttar Pradesh in 2018.
- The High Court found that some of the panchayat members had violated the rule of secrecy of ballot.
- The appellants in the SC contended that the principle of secrecy of ballots was not an absolute principle, and that voluntary waiver of the privilege was permissible.
- They referred to Section 94 of the Representation of Peoples Act to state that voter can voluntarily chose to waive the secrecy of ballot.
- Further, they argued that the HC has wrongly held that the voluntary waiver principle could not apply to the case in hand with respect to the members of the Zila Panchayat voting on a no confidence motion.
- The SC referred to Section 28(8) of the Uttar Pradesh Kshettra Panchayat and Zila Panchayat Adhiniyam, 1961 and ordered a re-vote of the motion within the next two months, by the secret ballot system.
Key Points of SC Verdict
- The Supreme Court has observed that the principle of secret ballot is an important postulate of constitutional democracy.
- It is to be observed that one of the fundamental principles of election law pertains to the maintenance of free and fair elections, ensuring the purity of elections.
- It referred to Section 94 of the Representation of People Act, which upholds the privilege of the voter to maintain confidentiality about her choice of vote.
- It is the policy of law to protect the right of voters to secrecy of the ballot.
- The choice of a voter should be free and the secret ballot system in a democracy ensures it.
- Even a remote or distinct possibility that a voter can be forced to disclose for whom she has voted would act as a positive constraint and a check on the freedom to exercise of franchise.
- However, a voter can also voluntarily waive the privilege of non-disclosure.
- The privilege ends when the voter decides to waive the privilege and instead volunteers to disclose as to whom she had voted.
- No one can prevent a voter from doing. Nor can a complaint be entertained from any, including the person who wants to keep the voter’s mouth sealed as to why she disclosed for whom she voted.
Representation of People’s Act
The Parliament has enacted the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1950 and Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Provisions of RPA, 1950
Provisions of RPA, 1951
Returning Officer (RO)
Why is it in News?
The role of Returning Officer has become an “Apple of Discord” among the political parties in the General Elections of 2019.
- A Returning Officer is responsible for overseeing the election in a constituency, or sometimes in two constituencies, as directed by the Election Commission (EC).
- The EC appoints the Returning Officer and Assistant Returning Officer for a constituency in consultation with the governments of the State or Union Territory as the case may be.
- Role of RO is mentioned in Part IV of Representation of People Act 1951.
- The EC can designate or nominate the same person to be returning officer for more than one constituency.
Duties of Returning Officer:
The Returning Officer’s duties include accepting and scrutinizing nomination forms, publishing the affidavits of candidates, allotting symbols to the contesting candidates, preparing the list of contesting candidates, preparing the EVMs and VVPATs, training polling personnel, designating counting centres, and counting the votes and declaring the result.
Why is it in News?
Due to 2019 being the year for General Elections, issues related to ‘Independent Candidates’ is frequently seen in the news.
Who is an Independent Candidate?
- An independent candidate is one who contests polls without being affiliated to any political party.
- Independents often support policies that are different from major political parties.
- More and more independents have been contesting Lok Sabha elections since the first general election of 1951-52, but the number of winners has been decreasing. The vote percentage polled by them has also been decreasing.
How are Independent Candidates different from Candidates of Political Parties?
- As per Representation of People Act 1951, a candidate of a political party needs only one proposer for filing the nomination but an independent candidate needs 10 proposers from the same constituency to file his/her nomination.
- Candidate from political parties contest elections on their party symbol but independent candidates are allowed to choose 3 free symbols listed by the Election Commission.
Can an Independent Candidate join any Political Party after Winning?
As per the Xth schedule, an independent candidate cannot join any party after he wins the election as it will amount to defection.
What is the Stand of Law Commission on the issue of Independent Candidates?
In its 255th report, the Law Commission of India sparked a debate when it recommended that independent candidates be barred from contesting elections as ‘they are either not serious or contest elections just to confuse the voters.’
Source: TH, Constitution of India (D.D. Basu), Indian Polity M. Laxmikanth
None Of The Above (NOTA)
Why is it in News?
Due to the ongoing General Elections, NOTA is frequently seen in the news.
What is NOTA?
- The NOTA option allows the voter to register a negative opinion about the candidates. In 2009 Lok Sabha Elections, the Election Commission demanded for the NOTA option on the EVMs but the government was against the demand.
- But in 2013, the Supreme Court gave the right to the voters to register a negative opinion in the form of NOTA.
Before NOTA, how did a Voter Register a Negative Vote?
Earlier, in order to cast a negative ballot, a voter had to inform the presiding officer at the polling booth but the NOTA option now doesn't require the involvement of the presiding officer. The button of NOTA is available at the bottom of all the EVMs.
What was the Need of having NOTA?
The Supreme Court upheld the right of voters to reject all candidates contesting in the elections claiming it would go a long way in cleansing the political system of the country, as the parties will be compelled to give a candidate of repute to the voters.
Is NOTA an effective tool?
- NOTA does have some negative aspects, but it has positive impacts too.
- Example: In 2018, Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha Elections, 1.4 percent of the total voters opted for NOTA, and 22 candidates lost by the margin of the votes which was less compared to the votes polled for NOTA. Such situations may gradually force the parties to give good candidates to the voters.
What if the Maximum Votes are cast for NOTA?
Even if the maximum numbers of votes are cast for NOTA, the candidate getting the most of the remaining votes would be declared a winner as in India we follow first-past-the-post electoral system. But, negative voting will force the parties to ponder on the quality of candidates which they are giving to the voters.
Is the NOTA Concept applicable to Elections in Rajya Sabha & Legislative Council?
The concept of NOTA is applicable in cases of Direct Elections, Elections to Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council is of indirect type.Source: TH, PRS blog