- Examine the contemporary issues surrounding the Representation of People’s Act and how key reforms are pivotal for establishing a strong and equitable electoral system in India.
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The Representation of the People Act, 1950, and the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, were enacted to guarantee the fairness of elections to Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies. Despite these efforts, concerning data highlights a concerning reality, with 43% of current Members of Parliament facing criminal charges, including 29% related to serious crimes against women.
Representation of People’s Act, 1950:
The RPA Act 1950 primarily addressed the allocation of seats, delimitation of constituencies, voter qualifications, and electoral roll preparation. However, detailed provisions for conducting elections, qualifications/disqualifications for legislative membership, corrupt practices, and dispute resolution were deferred to the subsequent Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Effectiveness of Representation of People’s Acts:
- Registration of Political Parties (Section 29A): Section 29A enables political party registration, granting specific benefits. However, proposed amendments aim to empower the Election Commission for better regulation, as the lack of regulatory power has led to the proliferation of political parties.
- Limitation of Two Seats (Section 33(7)): This section allows candidates to contest from two seats simultaneously, increasing the financial burden on public resources for holding by-elections to fill resulting vacancies.
- Rules for Disqualification (Section 8): Section 8 establishes rules for the disqualification of Members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. Despite stringent provisions, their effectiveness in decriminalizing politics is questioned.
- Corrupt Practices (Section 123(3)): Section 123(3) addresses corrupt practices during election campaigns. However, the misuse of such practices persists, reflecting the determination of candidates and political parties to secure victory by any means.
- Restriction on Polls (Section 126): Section 126 prohibits displaying election matter via television or similar means 48 hours before polls conclude. However, this provision does not extend to internet service providers and social media companies, undermining its purpose.
- Filing Election Expenses (Section 88): Section 88 mandates candidates to submit election expense accounts. Failure to do so without valid reasons can result in disqualification. Despite these provisions, limits on expenditure struggle to prevent the influence of black money in Indian elections.
The credibility of democratic institutions hinges on the integrity of the electoral process. The Representation of the People’s Act plays a crucial role in ensuring free and fair elections, ultimately determining the genuine representation of the people in the government.
Q: Examine the contemporary issues surrounding the Representation of People’s Act and how key reforms are pivotal for establishing a strong and equitable electoral system in India. (10 Marks, 150 Words)
The Representation of the People’s Act (RPA) is a parliamentary statute established under Article 327 of the Indian Constitution. It encompasses provisions for seat allocation, delimitation, administrative machinery for conducting elections, qualifications and disqualifications, electoral offenses, and dispute resolution related to elections.
Over the seven decades since its inception, changes in voter numbers, geographic expansion, political issues, discourse, diversity, technology, communications, and connectivity necessitate a comprehensive review of lessons learned from Indian elections:
- Electoral Funding: Section 77(1) of the RPA 1951, designed for the free and fair conduct of polls, has proven ineffective, leading to increased election costs due to lack of transparency, widespread corruption, and the influence of ‘black money.’
- Hate Speech: Despite Sections 123(3A) and 125 of the RPA, instances of hate speech during elections persist, advancing ill will among different groups.
- Campaign Silence: The enforcement of Section 126 of the RPA, prohibiting the display of election matter via television or similar apparatus 48 hours before polling, becomes challenging with the rise of digital media.
- Paid News: Instances of false statements related to candidates’ character, despite Section 123(4) of the RPA, remain common during elections.
- Sanctity and Updating of Electoral Rolls: Despite provisions in Part IIB, Part III, and Part IV of the RPA 1950, electoral rolls still face issues of misrepresentation and duplication, making new registrations difficult.
- Freebies: The Supreme Court in Subramaniam Balaji’s case (2013) noted that political promises, while not considered corrupt practices, can hinder the concept of free and fair elections.
To strengthen the Indian electoral system, strict enforcement of existing RPA provisions is necessary. Proposed amendments include:
- Election Finance: Introduction of Section 77A, replacement of Section 29C with Section 29D, requiring disclosure of individual contributions, and provisions for fines under Section 29G for non-compliance.
- Regulation of Political Parties and Inner Party Democracy: Insertion of a new Chapter IV C for the regulation of political parties, granting the Election Commission the power to de-register parties for non-compliance, and amendments in Section 29A (5) directing parties to refrain from violence and discrimination.
- Paid News and Political Advertisements: Clear definitions in Section 2 for “paying for news,” “receiving payment for news,” and “political advertisement.” Making “paying for news” an electoral offense with stringent punishment under Section 127 B and the addition of a new Chapter VII B in Part V prohibiting state/central government-sponsored advertisements.
These proposed reforms in the RPA are crucial to addressing contemporary challenges and establishing a resilient and equitable electoral system in India.