Govt Forms Kovind-led Committee on 'One Nation, One Election' Bill

NEW DELHI: Lifting suspense from the agenda of the special session of Parliament from September 18, the government on Friday announced the formation of a committee headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind to prepare ground for the "one nation, one election" Bill. It is expected that the government will kickstart a debate or discussion on the subject during the session from September 18 to 22.

On the issue, parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi said, "democracy is about evolution" and there was no need for the Opposition to press the panic button. He added that there were simultaneous polls for the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies till 1967. Now, due to some or other election every year, the exchequer faces huge expenditures.

"Right now, a committee has been constituted. A report by the committee will come out, which will be discussed. Parliament is mature and discussions will take place, there is no need to get nervous... India is called the mother of democracy. This is part of evolution. In this evolution, every new proposal that benefits the nation will be discussed…," said Joshi on Friday.

The BJP is hoping to ride on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and plans to encash it at all levels as the nation heads for a general election next year. Though it may be too early to predict if the “one nation, one election” principle can be applied next year, the plan entails a huge political and administrative exercise along with massive resources, including increasing the number of electronic voting machines and, before that, making constitutional provisions through amendments.

Soon after the announcement of the Kovind committee, BJP chief J.P. Nadda met the former President at his residence. Details of the meeting are still under wraps.

Union home minister Amit Shah, defence minister Rajnath Singh and Nadda met the Prime Minister later in the day, most likely to discuss the agenda of the special session.

Ever since Modi took over as PM in 2014, he has been talking about the idea of simultaneous polls, which include those at local bodies, citing the financial burden caused by an almost continuous election cycle and the fact that it impacts development work during the polling period.

Kovind, too, had echoed Modi's view. While addressing Parliament in 2018, Kovind had said, "Frequent elections not only impose a huge burden on human resources but also impede the development process due to the promulgation of the model code of conduct."

The government’s latest move to study the feasibility of the one nation, one election policy has not gone down well with the Opposition leaders, who dub it a threat to the federal structure of the country. The Opposition argues: "More than one nation, one election; fair elections are needed".

"No matter how many diversions and distractions the ruling regime throws at the people, the citizens of India shall not be betrayed anymore," said Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge.

Though the Law Commission has all along been in favour, fresh debate on one nation, one election began in 2018 when it prepared a draft working paper on holding simultaneous elections. It got buried under other issues and never came to the fore as the political parties continued debating on Article 370, the Citizenship Amendment Act, Triple Talaq, farm laws, etc. The government, too, waited for a more opportune time.

In its draft paper, the Law Commission stated that holding simultaneous elections will save public money, reduce burden on the administrative setup and security forces, ensure timely implementation of government policies and ensure that the administrative machinery is engaged in development activities rather than electioneering.

At the same time, the Law Commission said that simultaneous elections cannot be held within the existing framework of the Constitution and to have elections for the Lok Sabha and state Legislative Assemblies in one go, the government will need to make certain amendments to the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act 1951 and the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies. The commission also suggested that at least 50 per cent of the states should ratify the constitutional amendments.

The Law Commission recommended three alternatives to synchronise elections in India. The first option was advancing or postponing election timings in certain states so that elections to all state Assemblies and the Lok Sabha are held together. Second, for Assembly elections after the Lok Sabha polls, the states need to voluntarily dissolve their Assemblies earlier, or by operation of law. However, a political consensus was needed for these changes, the paper said, as this will require a constitutional amendment since the terms of different Assemblies will either need to be curtailed or extended.

And in the third, the commission recommended replacing the "no-confidence motion" with a "constructive vote of no-confidence", through appropriate amendments. In a constructive vote of no-confidence, the government may only be removed if there is confidence in an alternate government. It further suggested the option of limiting the number of such motions during the term of the House or Assembly.

If no party secures a majority to form the government, it may result in a hung House or Assembly. In order to prevent this, the commission recommended that the President or the governor give an opportunity to the largest party along with their pre- or post-poll alliance to form the government. If the government cannot be formed, an all-party meeting may be called to resolve the stalemate. If this fails, mid-term elections may be held. The commission recommended that appropriate amendments be made to provide that any new Lok Sabha or Assembly formed after mid-term elections, will be constituted only for the remainder of the ongoing term and not the entire five years.

The commission recommended that appropriate amendments be made to anti-defection laws to ensure that all disqualification issues arising from defection are decided by the presiding officer within six months.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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