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Law Commission may recommend holding simultaneous polls

A meeting of Law Commission will be held on April 17 to discuss simultaneous polls, revisiting the definition of contempt and bringing the BCCI under the ambit of the RTI that applies to public bodies.

india Updated: Apr 12, 2018 10:04 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Jatin Gandhi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Law Commission,simultaneous polls,Simultaneous election
The Narendra Modi government has been keen on holding simultaneous elections citing the election code of conduct as an impediment in development works and the expense involved in holding multiple assembly elections every year. (PTI File Photo)

In its report on holding simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections in the country, the Law Commission is likely to suggest that the idea can be implemented partially from the 2019 general election, provided there is complete “political consensus”, a top official of the panel said on Wednesday.

A meeting of the full Law Commission — comprising the chairman, two full-time and three part-time members — will be held on April 17 to discuss three important issues: Simultaneous polls, revisiting the definition of contempt (under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971) and bringing the Board for Control of Cricket in India under the ambit of the Right to Information Act that applies to public bodies, the official said.

The Commission’s working draft on holding simultaneous elections throughout the country has suggested that states in which elections are to be held till 2021 can go for polls along with the Lok Sabha in 2019 while the rest can be clubbed together with the next general election expected in 2024. The panel has undertaken the exercise without a reference from the government or the Supreme Court, the official said.

Commission chairman Justice BS Chauhan said the panel would steer clear of discussing the political issues involved. “We are only examining the issue legally. The Commission will discuss the proposals on the table in its meeting next week. There could be a change in the working draft,” he said.

Crucial April 17 meeting to discuss three issues
BRINGING BCCI UNDER AMBIT OF RTI
Current situation: The BCCI is a private body registered under the Societies Registration Act and information cannot be sought from it under RTI.
Why the call for RTI: The 2013 Sports bill called for transparency in sports finances and wanted cricket to be brought under ambit of the RTI.
Why is BCCI opposing it: The Board says it is a private body, and that RTI only applies to public bodies and governments.
What is the other view: Experts contend that legislating on sports activities is the public function and that the Board can be termed a ‘public authority’ because it receives tax exemptions and grants from governments.
SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS
Current situation: State and Lok Sabha elections are held separately, with state elections following a different cycle from the general elections.
The proposed change: The Modi government wants simultaneous elections and says frequent polls impede development work and are expensive.
How will this be done: The law commission’s working draft suggests that states in which elections are to be held till 2021 can be clubbed with the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, and the rest with the next general election.
What needs to be done to achieve it: The Constitution and the Representation of the People Act, 1951 will have to be amended.
Who is opposing it and why: The BJP’s rivals say this interferes with the federal structure of the Constitution and overlooks the fact that governments do not always run their full terms.
CONTEMPT OF COURTS ACT, 1971
Current situation: The Act says a person held in contempt can be sent to jail or fined, or either.
Who is opposing it and why: Some jurists say it is archaic and restricts free speech.
What is the other view: The panel’s rationale is that diluting this law will prevent a decree or direction from not being followed.

Preliminary discussions within the Commission have veered towards recommending the need for “ensuring political consensus” before moving ahead on parallel polls, an official privy to the ongoing exercise said.

“Achieving political consensus is the main issue. Both the Constitution and the Representation of People Act will have to be amended. While the terms of the existing assemblies can be truncated, there is no provision in the Constitution to increase the term of an assembly. Parliament will have to legislate on that,” he said. “There are other issues like arranging the requisite number of electronic voting machines and VVPATs for such a large exercise,” he added.

The Narendra Modi government has been keen on holding simultaneous elections citing the election code of conduct as an impediment in development works and the expense involved in holding multiple assembly elections every year.

On Monday, chief election commissioner OP Rawat spoke in Indore about the need to amend the Constitution to hold simultaneous polls. “The government sought the Election Commission’s (EC) opinion in 2015 on holding the elections to the Lok Sabha, assemblies and other bodies together. We sent a detailed reply to the government, telling them that the system would require amendments in the relevant paragraphs of the Constitution and certain sections of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, and the Representation of the People Act, 1951,” Rawat said, addressing the foundation day function of the Indore Press Club.

Experts said one of the main criticisms of simultaneous elections is that it interferes with the federal structure of the Constitution and does not take into account the fact that governments do not always run their full term. “Political consensus is not achieved easily even if desirable simultaneous polls are not feasible,” former CEC SY Quraishi said.

On the Contempt of the Courts Act, the panel could suggest that the definition of contempt does not need revisiting. “There are two key elements to contempt — wilful disobedience and scandalising the court. Neither can be excluded,” a panel member said.

HT had reported on January 10 this year that the panel is in favour of recommending the RTI Act — which makes seeking information on the functioning of public bodies a citizen’s right by law — should apply to the BCCI.

The cricket controller performs a public function and receives exemptions and grants from public funds, Law Commission chairman Justice BS Chauhan had said in an interview. “BCCI should be under the RTI Act,” he said.

“They get a lot of government grants in terms of tax exemptions and land at concessional costs from the public exchequer.” The matter will also be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

First Published: Apr 12, 2018 08:30 IST