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Lok Sabha election: Representation of the People Act lays down rules to register voters, also key in deciding seats for Lower House, Assemblies

India is in the midst of electing its 17th Lok Sabha. The general elections are being held in seven phases between 11 April and 19 May, 2019. The counting of votes will take place on 23 May. At least 900 million voters will exercise their franchise this time, making it the world’s biggest election till date.

Meanwhile, election campaigning is in full swing across the country with candidates belonging to different political parties hitting the campaign trail. Ultimately, 543 candidates will emerge successful in the Lok Sabha elections as per the First Past The Poll (FPTP) system.

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 gives Parliament the power to create laws dealing with elections to the Parliament and state assemblies. In this regard, the Representation of the People Act, 1950 serves as one of the two legislation for the smooth conduct of elections in India — the other being the 1951 Act of the same name.

 Lok Sabha election: Representation of the People Act lays down rules to register voters, also key in deciding seats for Lower House, Assemblies

People in queue to cast their votes. File image. PTI

Determines total seats in Parliament, assemblies

This Act was enacted by the Provisional Parliament in 1950 just months after the Constitution came into effect. The Act is divided into eight Parts and four Schedules. Part II of the Act deals with the allocation of seats in the Lok Sabha and the state Legislative Assemblies, the delimitation process for constituencies as well as the allocation of seats in the Legislative Councils in different states.

As far as the delimitation process is concerned, Section 4 in Part II of the Act empowers the Delimitation Commission to draw the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies. However, states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam, Nagaland and Jharkhand are excluded from delimitation. This particular Section was amended in 2008 after the last delimitation process.

Section 7(1A) of the Act reserves 12 seats for the Bhutia-Lecha community, two seats for the Scheduled Castes and one seat for the Sanghas in the Sikkim Assembly. Section 7(1B) also states the number of seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes in the Assemblies of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.

The first Schedule lays down the number of Lok Sabha seats for every state, while the second Schedule enumerates the total Assembly seats in each state. The third Schedule gives a break-up of the total seats in the Legislative Councils of seven states. The Act also states that Tamil Nadu has 78 seats in its Legislative Council. However, the Upper House has not been revived in the state since its abolition in 1986.

Act mandates regular updating of electoral rolls

Part IIA lays down the different polling officers who are required for smooth conduct of polling across the country. This part of the Act specifically mandates the Election Commission to nominate – in consultation with the concerned state – a number of key officers. They include the Chief Electoral Officer, who heads the electoral machinery in a state, District Election Officer, who is responsible for the preparation and revision of the electoral rolls for constituencies within the district, Electoral Registration Officer, who is responsible for revising the electoral roll in a constituency, and the Assistant Electoral Registration Officer, who assists the ERO.

Part IIB of the Act states that the electoral roll for a Parliamentary Constituency will consist of electoral rolls for all Assembly Constituencies that come under it, except in the case of Jammu and Kashmir and Union Territories, which do not have a legislature.

Part III of the Act lays down the qualifications for registering a voter along with the conditions that can bar someone from voting. As per the Act, a person needs to be above the age of 18 years on the qualifying date and an ordinary resident of India to be able to register as a voter.

However, a person shall be disqualified from registering in the electoral rolls if he or she is not a citizen of India. People of unsound mind as well as those disqualified from voting under the provisions of any law relating to corrupt practices and other offences in connection with elections are also barred from registering their name in the electoral roll.

After a 2010 amendment to the Act, Indian citizens living in foreign countries, commonly known as Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), are also eligible to vote in the place of residence which is mentioned in their passports.

The Act specifies that the electoral rolls in every Assembly Constituency need to be revised from time to time. It also lays down the process of inclusion of names as well as correction of other details in the electoral roll. Moreover, the Electoral Registration Officer plays a key role in accepting applications for inclusion or correction in the electoral roll.

Notably, the Act makes it clear that a citizen can only be registered in the electoral roll of one Assembly Constituency at a given point of time. Part V of the Act also bestows certain rule-making powers to the Centre. However, since 1998, the Election Commission has been demanding that the powers be transferred to them. Moreover, if any electoral officer is found guilty of not performing duties relating to the electoral roll, he or she may be imprisonment for a term “which shall not be less than three months but which may extend to two years and with fine.”

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Updated Date: May 14, 2019 16:45:53 IST