In 1990, the National Front Government headed by V P Singh appointed a committee on electoral reforms under the chairmanship of Dinesh Goswami, the then Law Minister. The Committee was asked to study the electoral system in detail and suggest measures for remedying the drawbacks within it. The Committee, in its report submitted in 1990 itself, made a number of proposals on electoral reforms. Some of these recommendations were implemented in 19969 These are explained here.
Listing of Names of Candidates The candidates contesting elections are to be classified into three categories for the purpose of listing of their names. They are
(i) Candidates of recognised political parties
(ii) Candidates of registered-unrecognised political parties
(iii) Other (independent) candidates
Their names in the list of contesting candidates and in the ballot papers has to appear separately in the above order and in each category these have to be arranged in the alphabetical order.
Disqualification for Insulting the National Honour Act A person who is convicted for the following offences under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act of 1971 is disqualified to contest in the elections to the Parliament and state legislature for 6 years.
(i) Offence of insulting the National Flag
(ii) Offence of insulting the Constitution of India
(iii) Offence of preventing the singing of National Anthem
Prohibition on the Sale of Liquor No liquor or other intoxicants are to be sold or given or distributed at any shop, eating place, hotel or any other place whether public or private within a polling area during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of poll. Any person who violates this rule is to be punished with imprisonment up to 6 months or with fine up to t2,000 or with both.
Number of Proposers The nomination of a candidate in a Parliamentary or assembly constituency should be subscribed by 10 registered electors of the constituency as proposers, if the candidate is not sponsored by a recognised political party. In the case of a candidate sponsored by a recognised political party, only one proposer is required. This was done in order to discourage
non-serious people from contesting the elections.
Death of a Candidate Earlier, in case of death of a contesting candidate before the actual polling, the election used to be countermanded. Consequently, the election process had to start all over again in the concerned constituency. But now, the election would not be countermanded on the death of a contesting candidate before the actual polling. However, if the deceased candidate belonged to a recognised political party, the party concerned would be given an option to propose another candidate within seven days.
Time Limit for By-Elections Now, by-elections are to be held within six months of occurrence of the vacancy in any House of Parliament or a state legislature. But, this condition is not applicable in two cases:
(i) Where the remainder of the term of the member whose vacancy is to be filled is less than one year; or
(ii) When the Election Commission in consultation with the Central Government, certifies that it is difficult to hold the by-elections within the said period.
Holiday to Employees on the Polling Day The registered voters employed in any trade, business, industry or any other establishment are entitled to a paid holiday on the polling day. This rule applies even to the daily wagers. Any employer who violates this rule is to be punished with a fine up to T500. However, this rule is not applicable in the case of a voter whose absence may cause danger or substantial loss in respect of the employment in which he is engaged.
Contestants Restricted to Two Constituencies A candidate would not be eligible to contest from more than two Parliamentary or assembly constituencies at a general election or at the by-elections which are held simultaneously. Similar restrictions are imposed for biennial elections and by-elections to the Rajya Sabha and the state legislative councils.
Prohibition of Arms Entering into the neighbourhood of a polling station with any kind of arms10 is to be considered a cognizable offence. Such an act is punishable with imprisonment of up to two years or with fine or with both. Further, the arms found in possession of the offender are to be confiscated and the related licence is to be cancelled. But, these provisions are not applicable to the returning officer, presiding officer, any police officer or any
other person appointed to maintain peace and order at the polling station.
Effective Campaigning Period Reduced The minimum gap between the last date for withdrawal of candidature and the polling date has been reduced from 20 to 14 days.