Revamping Election Commission
Posted December 4, 2016on:
Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi says that time has come for a comprehensive review of the Representation of People’s Act. In his inaugural address at National Interactive Conference on Electoral Laws in New Delhi, he sought inputs on the Act from the legal fraternity present in the Conference. The issue is vital and needs rather a debate at national level because almost everyone is involved in one way or the other in the electoral process. Over the time, certain lacunae have come to the fore which need to be plugged.
For one, the Election Commission needs to develop a mechanism for strict enforcement of its Code of Conduct when the election process starts. Wily politicians have been finding ways to skirt the Code of Conduct as has been witnessed in the past several elections. The officials on election duty, when they go against the Election Commission guidelines, are ‘punished’ by the Commission. The same ‘guilty’ officials are amply rewarded if the party for which they had violated the Election Commission directives, comes to power. This demoralises honest officials.
Here is an example. When Shivraj Singh Chouhan became Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in 2005, he was not a member of the Assembly, but a member of Lok Sabha. He resigned from Lok Sabha and contested from Budhni constituency in Sehore district. Collector of Sehore (a relatively small district) and Returning Officer S K Mishra was removed by Election Commission a few days before polling for violating the law to help Chouhan. As soon as the Election Commission’s Code of Conduct was over, Chouhan appointed Mishra Collector of Bhopal, one of the most coveted posts, and then Secretary to CM, virtually ridiculing the Election Commission and its Code of Conduct.
Reward for dishonesty
If the dishonest officials are duly rewarded by the party if it returns to power, those doing the election duty diligently and honestly are punished also, and the Election Commission has no power or mechanism to protect them. During the 2008 Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections, Phoolchand Verma had filed his nomination papers as BJP candidate from Sonkutch (SC) constituency in Dewas district. Sajjan Singh Verma was the Congress candidate. Tukojirao Puar, a Minister of State in the Chouhan council of ministers, was the BJP candidate from Dewas.
As the scrutiny of the nomination papers was being held, Tukojirao Puar, accompanied by Phool Chand Verma, created a ruckus in the office of Dewas Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Sanjana Jain, who was the Returning Officer for the Sonkutch (SC) Assembly constituency. They wanted Sanjana Jain to reject Sajjan Singh Verma’s nomination papers because, they claimed, he did not submit Form-B (letter of authorisation from the party) within the stipulated time. As the lady officer tried to explain the things, Puar had lost his temper and he and Phoolchand Verma had started threatening her and shouting that she had taken a lakh of rupees for adjusting Sajjan Singh Verma’s Form-B, submitted belatedly. The rowdy behaviour of the BJP leaders had lasted for quite some time.
After receiving a report, accompanied by a CD of the proceedings in her office, from Sanjana Jain, the Election Commission pondered over the matter and directed the Chief Electoral Officer of Madhya Pradesh to get a criminal case registered against Puar under Sections 186, 353 and 506 of IPC. As the Sections make it a cognisable offence, Puar was subsequently arrested by the police. At the same time, the Election Commission had ordered immediate removal of Dewas Collector Navneet Mohan Kothari, who was the District Returning Officer, for not sending SDM Sanjana Jain’s report to the Commission promptly. Shivraj Singh Chouhan told an election meeting at Dewas a few days later that he was proud of Tukojirao Puar.
In due course, Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) of Dewas D K Mittal framed charges under Sections 353 (assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty) and 504 (intentional insult) of Indian Penal Code (IPC) against Puar and Phoolchand Verma.
Meanwhile, BJP had returned to power and Chouhan again become Chief Minister. He promoted Puar to cabinet rank and transferred Sanjana Jain to an insignificant post. The case against Puar and Phoolchand Verma fizzled out. The Election Commission could neither protect Sanjana Jain nor ensure prosecution of Puar and Verma.
There is one more point. While taking up a comprehensive review of the working of Election Commission, a thought may also be given to amalgamation of Election Commission of India and State Election Commissions. At present every State has two establishments, Office of Chief Electoral Officer and State Election Commission. Both perform similar responsibilities, one in respect of Parliamentary and Assembly elections and the other in respect of local bodies. There will be better coordination if both are merged into one which works directly under the Election Commission of India.