Decoding Kovind committee report One Nation, One Election

The amendments to the Constitution enable simultaneous elections in two steps.
Decoding Kovind committee report One Nation, One Election

Hyderabad: A high-level committee led by former president Ram Nath Kovind on ‘One Nation, One Election’ submitted its report to president Droupadi Murmu on March 14. The committee recommended simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies followed by local body polls within 100 days.

The committee set up in September 2023 constituted home minister Amit Shah, former Rajya Sabha leader of opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash C Kashyap, former chairman of the 15th Finance Commission NK Singh, senior advocate Harish Salve, and former chief vigilance commissioner Sanjay Kothari.

Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal was a special invitee to the committee. It studied best practices from other countries and consulted 39 political parties, economists, and the Election Commission of India (ECI).

What is One Nation, One Election?

Simply put, simultaneous elections or the elections to the Lower House of the Parliament or Lok Sabha, all State Legislative Assemblies, and urban and rural local bodies (municipalities and panchayats) are held together, at one time. Earlier, elections to all these bodies were held independently of one another, following timelines dictated by the terms of each elected body.

The idea of implementing the practice is not new.

The Law Commission, the government’s advisory body, had recommended simultaneous elections in 1999. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been pitching for the same since he came to power in 2014.

Key recommendations of Kovind Committee:

1. The amendments to the Constitution enable simultaneous elections in two steps.

In the first step, simultaneous elections will be held for the House of the People and the State Legislative Assemblies. For this, no ratification by the States will be required for the Constitutional amendment.

In the second step, elections to the municipalities and the panchayats will be synchronised with the House of the People and the State Legislative Assemblies in such a way that municipalities and panchayat elections are held within 100 days of holding State and general elections. This will require ratification by not less than one-half of the states.

2. For the preparation of a single electoral roll and electoral photo identity cards (EPICs) for use in elections to all three tiers of government, amendments in the Constitution of India are recommended. This will enable the ECI to prepare a single electoral roll and EPICs in consultation with the State Election Commissions. These amendments will require ratification by not less than one-half of the states.

3. In the case of a hung House, no-confidence motion, or any such event, fresh elections should be held to constitute the new House of the People or State Legislative Assembly for the unexpired term of the House of the People.

4. The committee recommends that to meet logistical requirements, the ECI will plan and estimate in advance in consultation with the State Election Commissions and take steps for the deployment of manpower, polling personnel, security forces, EVMs/VVPATs, etc. so that free and fair simultaneous elections are held in all the three tiers of the government.

Arguments for simultaneous elections

From 2019-2023, besides the general elections, about 30 polls were held for elections to States and Union Territories. Simultaneous elections will allow the voters to elect representatives for all tiers of the government in one go, or at most on two days.

The committee, in its report, argued that frequent elections burden the government exchequer. If the expenditure incurred by political parties is also added, these figures will be even higher. 

Also, it said that asynchronous elections lead to the disruption of government machinery, causing hardship to citizens. The frequent use of government officials and security forces adversely affects the discharge of their duties and frequent imposition of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) causes policy paralysis and slows down the pace of developmental programmes.

The stagged elections induce voter fatigue and present a significant challenge in ensuring their participation, the committee said.

Arguments against simultaneous elections

A total of 47 political parties gave their opinion to the Ram Nath Kovind-led panel on simultaneous elections; 32 supported the idea, whereas 15 opposed it. Of the 32 in support, all the parties, importantly, are either BJP allies or friendly towards the party.

The Congress party said that implementing simultaneous elections would result in ‘substantial changes to the basic structure of the Constitution’, went against ‘the guarantees of federalism’ and would ‘subvert Parliamentary democracy’.

AAP said that simultaneous elections would undermine democracy, the basic structure of the Constitution, and the federal polity of the country. The move would institutionalise a Presidential form of government which cannot be dislodged by a vote of no-confidence.

Regional Parties like Trinamool Congress (TMC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Samajwadi Party (SP) in their opinion committee said that the simultaneous election will be against the federal structure of the Constitution.

Were simultaneous elections held in India before?

India conducted simultaneous elections until the fourth general elections of 1967. However, as successive Central governments used constitutional provisions to dismiss State governments before the end of their term, and as coalition governments in the States and the Centre kept collapsing, the country came to see elections at different times throughout the year.

In 2024, the Lok Sabha elections will coincide with four State Assembly elections: Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim.

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