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General Studies 2 >> Polity

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1. Context

Recently, The Supreme Court issued guidelines to monitor the speedy disposal of criminal cases against Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs).

2. Back Ground

  • The Constitution allows Parliament to make provisions in all matters relating to elections to the Parliament and State Legislatures.
  • After independence, there was a need to hold general elections to elect a truly representative government based on universal adult suffrage.
  • Article 325 of the constitution ensures universal suffrage and provides that no person be ineligible for inclusion in or to claim to be included in a special, electoral roll on grounds of religion, race, caste or sex.
  • In the exercise of this power, the Parliament has enacted laws like Representation of the People Act 1950 (RPA Act 1950), and Representation of the People Act 1951 (RPA Act 1951).

3. The Representation of the People Act, 1951

  • It is an act of Parliament of India to provide for the conduct of election of the Houses of Parliament and to the House or Houses of the Legislature of each state, the qualifications and disqualifications for membership of those Houses, the corrupt practices and other offences at or in connection with such elections and the decision of doubts and disputes arising out of or in connection with such elections.
  • It was introduced in Parliament by Law Minister Dr B.R. Ambedkar. The Act was enacted by the provisional parliament under Article 327 of the Indian Constitution, before the first general election.

3.1. Key provisions of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951

  • It regulates the actual conduct of elections and by-elections in the country.
  • It provides administrative machinery for conducting elections.
  • It deals with the registration of political parties.
  • It specifies the qualifications and disqualifications for membership of the Houses.
  • It provides Provisions to curb corrupt practices and other offences.
  • It lays down the procedure for settling doubts and disputes arising out of elections.

3.2. Qualifications for Contesting Elections in India

  • A person must be an elector in the constituency
  • The Minimum age for becoming MLA/MP (Lok Sabha) is 25 years.
  • The person must be a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe in any State/UT if he/she wants to contest a seat reserved for them.
  • The Minimum age limit for contesting elections at the Panchayat and Municipality levels is 21 years.
  • A person shall not be qualified to be chosen as a representative of any state or Union territory in the Rajya Sabha unless he/she is an elector for a Parliamentary constituency.

3.3. Disqualification of MPs and MLAs

The RPA, 1951 lays down certain rules for the disqualification of MPs and MLAs.

Section 8 (1) A person convicted of an offence punishable under certain acts of the Indian Penal Code, Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002 etc, shall be disqualified, where the convicted person is sentenced to
(i) Only fine, for six years from the date of such conviction
(ii) Imprisonment from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for six years since his release.
Section 8 (2) A Person convicted for the contravention of
(a) Any law providing for the prevention of hoarding or profiteering; or
(b)Any law relating to the adulteration of food or drugs or
(c) Any provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
Section 8(3) of the Act states that if an MP or MLA is convicted of any other crime and is sent to jail for 2 years or more. He/she will be disqualified for 6 years from the time of release. Even if a person is on bail after the conviction and his appeal is pending disposal, he/she is disqualified from contesting an election.
Section 8 (4) allowed convicted MPs, MLAs and MLCs to continue in their posts, provided they appealed against their conviction/sentence in higher courts within 3 months of the date of judgment by the trial court. The Supreme Court in July 2013 struck down section 8 (4) of the RPA, 1951 and declared it ultra vires and held that the disqualification takes place from the date of conviction.

3.4. Voting Rights

Article 326 of the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to every citizen above the age of 18 years unless disqualified by any law. Section 62 of the RPA, 1951 also ensures that every person who is in the electoral roll of that constituency is entitled to vote.

  • One can vote in one constituency only and only for one time in a particular election.
  • If a person is confined in a prison, whether under a sentence of imprisonment or transportation, then he is not eligible for voting, however, in the case of preventive custody he can vote.
  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) had said that the person under preventive custody had the right to vote, but not under trials and convicts.
  • The Act allows those serving sentences of less than 2 years to contest election from prison.

3.5. Provisions Related to Political Parties

  • Every association or body to become a political party must be registered with the ECI whose registration decision will be final.
  • Registered Political Parties, over time, can get recognition as “State Part” or National Party”.
  • Change in name and address of a registered political party must be communicated to the ECI.
  • The ECI cannot derecognise a party
  • Voluntary Contributions by any person or company within India (other than a government company) can be accepted by the registered political party.
  • A company can donate any amount of money to any political party.
  • There is no obligation of the company to report such donations in its profit and loss account.
  • It is mandatory for the political parties to submit to the ECI a list of donations they received above Rs. 2, 000.
  • Political parties cannot receive more than Rs 2000 as cash donations.
  • Now, Political parties are eligible to accept contributions from foreign companies defined under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010.
  • Individuals contesting elections have to file an affidavit, declaring their criminal records, assets and liabilities and educational qualification.
  • After getting elected, MPs are required to file a declaration of assets and liabilities with the Speaker of Lok Sabha and the Chairman of Rajya Sabha.
  • These declarations have to be made by MPs within 90 days of taking their seats in Parliament.
  • Candidates need to furnish information on whether he/she is accused of any offence punishable with imprisonment of 2 years or more in a pending case or has been convicted of an offence.
  • Any class of person can be notified by the ECI in consultation with the concerned government which can give their votes by postal ballot.
  • At every election where a poll is taken, the votes are counted by or under the supervision of the Returning Officer and contesting candidate, his election agent and his counting agents.
  • Destruction, loss, damage or tampering of ballot papers at the time of counting must be reported by the RO to the ECI.
  • All government or non-government officials are included within the scope of corrupt practices.
  •  Any gift/offer/ promise or gratification to any person as motive or reward.
  • Any direct or indirect interference attempt to interfere on the part of the candidate with the free exercise of any electoral right.
  • The publication by a candidate of any statement of fact that is false about the personal character/ conduct of any candidate
  • The hiring of any vehicle by a candidate of any elector to or from any polling station
  • Any person who promotes or attempts to promote on grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language, feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of citizens of India can be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years.
  • Prohibition of public meetings during 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of the poll.

3.6. Significance of the Acts

  • The Provision of direct election for every constituency makes the process of election more democratic and participatory by encouraging and empowering people to play an active role in choosing appropriate candidates.
  • The RPA, 1950 provides for delimitation which brings equality in the process of election by ensuring roughly an equal number of electors in each constituency.
  • The acts strengthened the federal polity of the country by giving due representation to each state in the Parliament.
  • The RPA, 1951 plays a significant role in breaking the politicians, police and criminal nexus by prohibiting the entry of persons with a criminal background into the electoral process.
  • The RPA, 1951 provides for the expenditure monitoring mechanism which ensures the accountability and transparency of the candidate in the use of public funds or misuse of power for personal benefits.
  • The RPA, 1951 prohibits corrupt practices like booth capturing, bribery or promoting enmity etc., and ensures the conduct of free and fair elections which in turn encourage political liberalization and democratization.
  • The RPA, 1951 provides that only those political parties which are registered under section 29A of the RPA, 1951 are eligible to receive electoral bonds, thus providing a mechanism to track the source of political funding and ensuring transparency in electoral funding.

3.7. Amendments to the Act

None of the above was introduced in the ballot papers/Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the General Election to the State Assemblies in 2013.

  • Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail is an independent system attached to the EVMs that allows voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended.
  • It was introduced in 2013 after the Supreme Court allowed the ECI the requirement of free and fair elections in its verdict in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of India case (2013).
  • The displaying of any election matter by television or similar apparatus in a constituency, 48 before the polling ends or concludes is prohibited.
  • Section 126 does not apply to Print media, news portals and social media.
  • Section 126A prohibits the conduct of exit polls and dissemination of their results during the period mentioned.
  • A candidate contesting polls in large states can spend up to Rs 70 lakh in the Lok Sabha election and Rs. 28 lakh in an Assembly election.
  • Section 8 (4) allowed convicted MPs, and MLAs to stand for elections by filing a complaint that was repealed. It is a step towards decriminalising politics.
  • Insertion of Section 62 (2), which allowed a person post detention to contest elections as he no longer ceased to be an elector as his name is included in the electoral roll.
  • The recent amendments included Section 20A of RPA, which now allows NRI to vote from their current residence via the postal ballot system.

3.8. Challenges to the Act

  • Even after the provision of the declaration of assets and liabilities in the RPA Act, candidates do not disclose all the assets and provide wrong and incomplete information regarding their assets, liabilities income and educational qualifications.
  • Despite the inclusion of several provisions aimed at making the ECI an independent body, it is still dependent on the Union for financial matters that pave the way for political parties to manage to get the officers in their favour through money and muscle power.
  • The ECI does not have an independent staff of its own so whenever elections take place, it has to depend upon the staff of Central and State Governments hence the dual responsibility of the administrative staff, to the government for ordinary administration and to the ECI for electoral administration is not conducive to the impartial and efficient functioning of the Commission.
  • The RPAs lack clear provisions and guidelines on matters related to the misuse of official machinery that gives an unfair advantage to the ruling party at the time of elections and leads to the misuse of public funds for furthering the prospects of candidates of a particular party.

4. The Way Forward

  • By an amendment made to the RPA 1951, conducting and publishing results of exit polls have been prohibited. There should be a similar prohibition or restriction on opinion polls as several manipulated opinion polls could impact the voting pattern.
  • The RPA, 1951 should be amended to include all the items related to the election disclosure in the affidavit and making false declarations in connection with the election to be an offence.
  • TO curb the practice of bureaucratization of politics and to secure complete independence of the Election Commission, its expenditure should be charged to the Consolidated Fund of India.
  • Parliament must pass a law dealing with the serious problem of delisting valid electors from electoral rolls because illiterate electorate residing in far villages cannot watch over the publication of electorate lists.
For Prelims: Indian Polity and Governance-Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
For Mains: General Studies II: Parliament and State legislatures structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
1. Discuss the significance of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, in ensuring the decriminalization of politics. Evaluate the effectiveness of the Act in preventing individuals with a criminal background from entering the electoral process. (250 Words)
Previous Year Questions
1. According to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, in the event of a person being elected to both houses of Parliament, he has to notify within ______ days in which house he intends to function. (Delhi Police Constable 2020) 
A. 22       B. 10        C.  20            D. 15
Answer: B
2. The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 extends to (MPPSC 2018)
A. whole of India       
B. whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir
C. Union Territories
D. only the- State of Jammu and Kashmir
Answer: A
3. Under the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955, all offences are (MPPSC 2013)
A. Cognizable   B. Bailable   C. Compoundable   D.Punishment with imprisonment and fine both
Answer: A
4. The right to vote is in which article of the Indian Constitution? (Bihar Forest Guard 2019)
A. Article 322        B. Article 324      C. Article 326         D. Article 330
Answer: C
5. Right to vote and to be elected in India is a (UPSC 2017)
A. Fundamental Right     B.  Natural Right   C. Constitutional Right      D. Legal Right
Answer: C

6. Consider the following statements: (UPSC 2017)

  1. The Election Commission of India is a five-member body.
  2. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs decides the election schedule for the conduct of both general elections and bye-elections.
  3. Election Commission resolves the disputes relating to splits/mergers of recognised political parties.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only           (b) 2 only              (c) 2 and 3 only                (d) 3 only

Answer: D

7. The Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system was used for the first time by the Election Commission of India in (UPSC CAPF 2019) 

A. North Paravur Assembly Constituency, Kerala
B. Noksen Assembly Constituency, Nagaland
C. Mapusa Assembly Constituency, Goa
D. Nambol Assembly Constituency, Manipur

Answer: B

8. In which of the following options, Electronic Voting Machines were used for the first time during general elections all over India? (Rajasthan Police Constable 2020)

A. 2014      B. 1999         C. 2004        D. 2009

Answer: C

9. Which one of the following statements about 'personal liberty' is not correct? (UPSC CAPF 2021) 
A. State does not have the authority to deprive any person within the territory of India of his/her personal liberty without any rational basis.
B. Basis of depriving a person of his/her personal liberty must be in accordance with procedures established by law.
C. Personal liberty can be secured by the judicial writ of Habeas Corpus.
D. The majority view of the Supreme Court in A. K. Gopalan vs. State of Madras case invented 'due process of law'.
Answer: D

10. Consider the following statements about Electoral Bond Scheme 2018: (RPSC RAS 2018)

(A) The aim of this scheme is to bring about transparency in the funding process of political parties.
(B) Only the political parties recognized by the Election Commission which secured not less than one per cent of the votes polled in the last general election to the House of People or the Legislative Assembly of the State shall be eligible to receive the Electoral Bonds.
(C) Electoral Bonds shall be valid for fifteen calendar days from the date of issue.
(D) The Electoral Bond deposited by an eligible political party in its account shall be credited on the same day.

Which of the above statements are correct?

A. Only (A) and (B)             B. (A), (B), (C) and (D)   

C. Only (B), (C) and (D)       D. Only (A), (C) and (D)

Answer: B


1. Discuss the role of the Election Commission of India in the light of the evolution of the Model Code of Conduct. (UPSC 2022)

Source: The Indian Express and PRS Legislative

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