EC seeks to fine candidates who contest and win from 2 seats

Updated on Jun 17, 2022 01:59 AM IST

The EC wants to discourage candidates from contesting from multiple constituencies, and has proposed a fine for lawmakers who fight from two seats and win both, documents accessed by HT show.

Under India’s election laws, if a legislator wins their election from two seats, they have to vacate one of the two seats, where a by-election has to be held within six months.
Under India’s election laws, if a legislator wins their election from two seats, they have to vacate one of the two seats, where a by-election has to be held within six months.
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj

The Election Commission (EC) wants to discourage candidates from contesting from multiple constituencies, and has proposed a fine for lawmakers who fight from two seats and win both, documents accessed by HT show.

Under India’s election laws, if a legislator wins their election from two seats, they have to vacate one of the two seats, where a by-election has to be held within six months.

The proposal – which was submitted to the Union law ministry a few weeks ago – said that members of state assemblies who successfully contest from two seats and vacate one later will have to pay 5 lakh. For parliamentarians, this figure is 10 lakh, documents show.

The rationale behind the fine was to make the lawmaker bear some of the cost of the bypoll necessitated by their decision to fight from two seats, a person familiar with the matter said.

“When a candidate contests from two seats, it is imperative that he has to vacate one of the two seats, should he win both. This, apart from the consequent unavoidable financial burden on the public exchequer and the manpower and other resources for holding the by-election against the resultant vacancy, would be an injustice to voters of the constituency, which the candidate is quitting from,” said the person quoted above, requesting anonymity.

The proposal was part of a raft of reforms, which includes a two-year imprisonment term for candidates filing false affidavits. In a meeting held recently, chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar, who took over last month, and election commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey asked the law ministry to expedite the reforms.

While the EC can propose the reforms, the final approval is given by the government which may have to introduce amendments in Parliament so as to update the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

“The reform was first proposed in 2004 to amend the existing laws to reflect the same, if a candidate contests from two constituencies they should bear the cost of the by-election to the seat that the contestant decides to vacate,” said the person quoted in the first instance.

Indian politicians often contest from multiple seats, either as a matter of security or to spread their political influence. In the 2014 general election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi contested from Vadodara and Varanasi, later vacating the former. In 2019, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi fought from Wayanad in Kerala and Amethi in Uttar Pradesh but lost the latter.

It was in 1996 that an amendment to the Representation of the People Act restricted the number of seats to two that a candidate can contest in one election.

In the 1957 elections, Atal Bihari Vajpayee contested from three constituencies in Uttar Pradesh — Balrampur, Mathura and Lucknow; LK Advani from two constituencies in 1991 - New Delhi and Gandhinagar; and Sonia Gandhi from two constituencies in 1999 – Bellary and Amethi.

EC also sought the power to de-register political parties, so that it can control tax evasion by parties that are not contesting polls. Within a month of taking over, Kumar already issued notices to nearly 2,100 unregistered political parties for alleged tax evasion. While EC does not have the power to deregister a political party – a move still pending approval from the government – it can take up the issue of financial irregularities and seek mandatory compliance from parties, which includes sources and manner of donations, disclosures by companies, details of bank account and expenditure statements.

EC has also urged the government to amend the Representation of the People Act to provide two year imprisonment in case of filing a false affidavit. “The conviction (will then) automatically lead to a disqualification,” the person mentioned above added.

Jagdeep Chhokar from the Association Democratic Reforms, said that contestants should not be allowed to fight from two seats but expressed doubt on whether the fine was an adequate deterrent. “The fines of 10 lakh and 5 lakh is arbitrary and do not seem to have a relationship to expenses incurred,” he said.

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