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Lok Sabha Election 2019: Representation of the People Act, 1951 serves as backbone of the Indian electoral system

India is in the midst of electing its 17th Lok Sabha. Polling is already completed in more than half of the seats. The Lok Sabha election which began on 11 April will end on 19 May after polling in seven phases. The votes will be counted on 23 May and results will be announced thereafter.

At least, 900 million voters will exercise their franchise this time, making it the world's biggest elections till date. Conducting an election in an ethnically and geographically diverse country like India is a herculean task, requiring extensive preparations to keep the electoral processes up and running.

Articles 324 to 329 in the Indian Constitution deal with the electoral system in India. The Constitution bestows the Parliament with the power to create laws dealing with elections to the Parliament and state Assemblies.

 Lok Sabha Election 2019: Representation of the People Act, 1951 serves as backbone of the Indian electoral system

Representational image. AFP

The Representation of the People Act, 1951 serves the backbone of the entire electoral process in India. The Act, enacted by the Provisional Parliament ahead of the elections to the First Lok Sabha, lays down the provisions for the actual conduct of the elections across India. Apart from providing the framework for the electoral process. While complementing the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, the Act also deals with qualification and the disqualification criteria for lawmakers. The Act is divided into 13 parts.

Lays down provisions for disqualifying lawmakers

Part II of the Act lays down the qualifications for membership of the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, Vidhan Sabha and Vidhan Parishad. The Act also lays down the qualifications for the membership of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly, which reserves some seats for Buddhist Sanghas and the Bhutia-Lepcha community.

Section 8 of the Act deals with disqualification of members for various offences. These offences include violation of laws in the Indian Penal Code regarding communal harmony, rape, and cruelty towards wife, preaching or promoting untouchability, importing or exporting prohibited goods, holding membership of an association banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

In addition, violation of laws such as Foreign Exchange (Regulation) Act, 1973, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act,1985 , the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act, 1987, The Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1988, The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002, hoarding or profiteering, adulteration of foods, and the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 can also be the cause for disqualification.

According to Section 8 of the Act, any lawmaker sentenced to at least two-year imprisonment will be disqualified. Moreover, a lawmaker will not be able to contest any election for six years after being released from the jail. For instance, AIADMK leader VK Sasikala will complete her four-year jail term in 2021 but she will not be able to contest elections till 2027.

Notably, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that an MP or MLA will be disqualified from the date of his or her conviction itself. The ruling also declared Section 8(4), which provided a three-month period getting a stay on the conviction and sentence, as unconstitutional.

Moreover, the apex court also ruled that any person in jail or police custody cannot contest an election. However, the Centre passed an amendment to the Act nullifying this part of the ruling.

Holding an office of profit while being a member of the Parliament could lead to disqualification as an MP or MLA. While there is no clear definition of what constitutes “office of profit”, PRS states it as a position that brings to the office-holder some financial gain, or advantage, or benefit. However, several amendments to the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959 have broadened the exemption list.

As per Section 10A of the Act, the failure to disclose election expenses could also lead to disqualification. It was under this provision that former Madhya Pradesh minister Narottam Mishra was disqualified for a period of three years.

Framework for the actual conduct of polls

Part III of the Act focuses on the notification of general elections to the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha of the states, along with biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha and Vidhan Parishad.

Part IV is certainly the most crucial aspect of the Act since it deals with the administrative machinery required for the smooth conduct of elections. It allows the Election Commission, in consultation with the state government, to designate Returning Officers and Assistant Returning Officers for each Assembly or Parliamentary Constituency. It also lays down the role and duties of the Chief Electoral Officer, District Election Officer, Presiding Officer and the Observers.

Part V of the Act focuses on the functioning of the electoral process. Among several other aspects of an election, Part V of the Act deals with the nomination process, withdrawal or scrutiny of candidature, appointment of election agents, as well as the final counting of votes.

Part VI deals with electoral disputes and the legal process involved in resolving them. Part VII, in effect, serves as the framework for the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) during the election season. While many aspects of the MCC are not legally enforceable, those which can be enforced legally derive their power through Section 123, Section 123(3A) and Section 133 of the Act.

Act deals with registration of political parties, funding

Part IVA of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 deals with the registration of political parties, providing the guidelines for anyone in India to register their political party with the Election Commission of India.

Moreover, Part IVA focuses on the funding of political parties in India. An amendment made in 2003 to the Act inserted Section 29 B and 29 C. According to Section 29B, political parties may accept contributions of any amount from any person or company except a government company or foreign source.

On the other hand, Section 29C requires every political party to submit a report on contributions above 20,000 from individuals and companies to the Election Commission before the income tax returns are filed. This particular section was recently amended by the NDA government, allowing political parties to not report any donation received through electoral bonds.

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Updated Date: May 09, 2019 13:37:32 IST