India is considered to be the world’s biggest democracy and elections are the most celebrated festivals here. This festival is celebrated with much fanfare like any other religious festival involving vast monetary expenditure and human efforts. However, conducting elections very frequently is a serious issue especially in this world’s second most populous country. The debate is ongoing on the pros and cons for holding simultaneous elections for the lower house and state assembly. The research attempts to deliberate upon the various direct/indirect facets associated to this.
Simultaneous Elections: A Need of the Hour
Holding of a separate election to a legislative assembly should be an exception and not the rule [i]
Before initiating any action, the first thing that is looked at is the involvement of cost in it. The data compiled below reflects the amount spent by election commission over the years for conducting lok sabha elections. [ii]
Moreover, the amount further required to conduct the state assembly elections makes the total look scary. This whooping cost can be saved if the assembly and lok sabha elections are conducted together. Countries like South Africa, Sweden are some of the examples where simultaneous elections are conducted. [iii] Through this the costs on the EVMs installed, the security deployed etc. can be shared between the centre and the state.
Many a times, political parties field a sitting MP for the election of an MLA or vice-versa, thus creating a need for bye-elections. This adds cost to the public exchequer. However, if the elections are held simultaneously this cost can be done away with.
The continuous cycle of elections in India keep the government and the leaders occupied in campaigning for the respective elections. This also created a need for the government to take popular measures having short term benefits to grab the voters’ attention. This includes providing reservation benefits to various castes even though they are not satisfying the required qualifications to providing freebies. If there will be combined elections, the government can stabilize itself and function properly.
Many a times, some voters name gets missing from the electoral roll especially in case of national elections. However, this does not happen in local elections as they are on a small scale. In those elections, every vote counts. If both the elections are happening at the same time, this problem can be sorted put.
Holding Separate Elections: Continuing the Current System
It is an old adage that every coin has two sides. Similarly the aspect of conducting simultaneous elections has some limitations as well. To begin with, this requires a lot of EVMs, trained staff etc. to conduct elections at the same time everywhere in India. As per a report, it was observed that there is a shortfall of about 12.9 lakh ballot units, 9.4 lakh control units and 12.3 lakh VVPATs for conducting simultaneous elections. [iv] Moreover, the same report also presents the cost required to be incurred in future for up keeping the EVMs. The life of an EVM has been estimated around 15 years after which the new EVMs are required to be procured. [v]
Year of Election
Amount Required (in Crores)
₹ 1751.17 crores
₹ 2017.93 crores
₹ 13981.58 crores
This counters the argument of cost cutting for conducting simultaneous elections.
The 2019 union election was fought on national issues like nationalism, surgical strike etc. Due to this, all the issues which were crucial for the states and the regional parties got suppressed. The idea of collective elections will make all the local problems irrelevant. In that case, the performance of the union government will assume the key role and will be influential in deciding the mandate for the state governments.
Even if the proposal of simultaneous elections is accepted for the time being, then still there will be certain glitches. Bye-elections in India take place very frequently for one reason or the other. Hence, even if the all the elections are happening at the same time, the bye-elections will still create problems. In fact, the first general elections in 1951-52, India had the system of combined elections for the centre and the state. [vi] However, due to repeated bye-elections and imposition of state emergency under article 356 of the Constitution of India, 1950 [“Constitution”] created gap between the periods of the elections. [vii] Hence, the scheme of collective elections is bound to fail unless the above mentioned reasons are sorted out.
However, the biggest roadblock in the path of simultaneous elections is yet to come. Article 83 and 172 of the constitution provides for the maximum tenure as five years of the union and the state government respectively. If the simultaneous elections are to be conducted, the tenure of some of the states has to be increased or decreased. However, this can only be possible by way of imposing emergency there under article 356 of the constitution. Additionally, every provision of the law has its specific contour which is prone to judicial review as well. After S.R. Bommai case, [viii] article 356 cannot be used indiscriminately. It will be a herculean task for the proponents of simultaneous elections to curtail or extend the duration of the state governments in 29 states plus two union territories.
In the kind opinion of the author, the idea of conducting collective elections seems to be far- fetched. However, some improvements can be initiated in the election process in India. In the coming years, the following assembly elections are lined up:[ix]
Year of Election
No. of States
Out of these six durations, two or three durations can be selected when the assembly elections can be organized and within the selected time periods lok sabha elections can be conducted. This can be a useful solution as it will reduce the frequency of the elections as well as the cost. Moreover, no additional EVMs, polling staff etc. will be required to conduct these elections.
Democracy is considered to be to the people, for the people, by the people. Elections are considered as indispensable the democracy. The elections are conducted from the hard-earned money of the citizens. A sincere effort should be made to save this money which can be used in those places where it has the most efficient and effective use i.e. for the development and welfare of people.
[i] 170th Law Commission Report, http://www.lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/lc170.htm.
[ii] Hemant Singh, Election Cost per Voter in Lok Sabha Election since 1952, https://www.jagra njosh.com/general-knowledge/election-cost-per-voter-in-lok-sabha-election-1554278490-1.
[iii] Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, Sweden inspires India for simultaneous elections, https://econom ictimes.indiatimes.c om/news/politics-and-nation/sweden-inspires-india-for-simultaneous-electio ns/articleshow/63792441.cms?from=m dr.
[iv] 2018 Draft Report of Law Commission of India on simultaneous elections, http://www.lawcommissionofindia. nic.in/reports/Simultaneous_Elections.pdf.
[vi] Alok Prasanna Kumar, ‘One nation one election’ in India: Difficult to see tangible benefits, but list of drawback s continue to grow, https://www.firstpost.com/india/simultaneous-elections-in-india-hard-to-see-any-benefits-but-list – of-drawbacks-continues-to-grow-4332007.html.
[vii] 79th Report of Rajya Sabha on Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies, http://22.214.171.124/newcommittee/repo rts/EnglishCommittees/Committee % 20on %20Personne l,%20PublicGrievances,%20Law%20a nd%20Justice/79.pdf.
[viii] S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, 1994 AIR 1918.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Saket Agarwal is currently in his 4th year of B.A.LLB (H) at National Law University, Jodhpur.
In Content Picture Credit: CNBC