Friday, December 1, 2023

Ineffective treatment

Holding simultaneous elections to the state assemblies and Lok Sabha in India has been much talked about and speculated during the past few decades but which hasn’t come into effect despite the fact that this concept had been practiced until 1967, but gradually fell out of sync due to the frequent dissolution of Assemblies and Lok Sabhas before their terms ended. The Modi government has made it one among many issues it is pursuing so as to etch this as one among several claimed ‘achievements’. While most NDA partners are all for it, most of the opposition especially within the INDIA bloc are opposed to it. The idea is about structuring the Indian election cycle in a manner so that elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies are synchronised together so that the election to both can be held within a given span of time. The government had constituted a high-level committee on “one nation, one election” headed by former president Ram Nath Kovind to examine holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha, state assemblies, municipalities and panchayats, keeping in view the existing framework under the Constitution and other statutory provisions. There are divergent views on one election and one nation since the practical aspect suggests that past experience should be an eye opener. Those supporting holding of simultaneous polls point out the huge expenditure involved in holding elections every year has made the nation suffer economically. Presently five states go to the polls-some in November-December 2023 and some in January 2024. If simultaneous polls are to be held, then the Lok Sabha polls (scheduled in May 2024) should be to preponed to hold simultaneous polls with state assembles either by December 2024 or January 2024. On October 26, the Election Commission of India (ECI), mentioned that there is currently a shortfall of nearly 35 lakh voting units – control units, ballot units and VVPAT units – for the simultaneous conduct of Lok Sabha and assembly polls and that it will require nearly 30 lakh control units, about 43 lakh ballot units and about 32 lakh VVPATs for holding simultaneous polls, taking into consideration the reserve units kept for replacement in case of any malfunction or damage. The Election Commission had informed the Law Commission a few months ago that it would also require adequate warehousing facilities to store the electronic voting machines. In a simultaneous polls, voters cast their votes in two separate EVMs. In the last Lok Sabha elections 2019, there were 12.50 lakh polling stations. The ECI will now require around 15 lakh control units, 15 lakh VVPAT units and 18 lakh ballot units for 12.50 lakh polling stations since an EVM has shelf life of 15 years.While there was no official estimate available on how much these voting units cost, at the previous procurement rates also the total cost for one crore units will be in excess of Rs 15,000 crore, including over Rs 6,500 crore for VVPAT units. The huge economic cost of holding elections every year is not a hurdle. The main challenge is when state assemblies get dissolved before their terms end due to instability etc. Thus a state assembly cannot wait for over two years till the next simultaneous polls with Lok Sabha as this would only ensure that the cure is worse than the disease.


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