Indian elections can be made much more efficient in the areas of preparedness, time given to candidates, campaign duration, scheduling of polling dates and missing names of voters. Here are some suggestions
Dear Chief Election Commissioner,
India is in the grip of election fever since 5 March 2014 when the Election Commission (EC) announced the schedule for the General Election 2014. After witnessing the way the election campaigns are being carried on by various political parties, as a citizen of this great country, I would like to share my thoughts and make certain suggestions for consideration of the Election Commission. I have attempted to do an environment analysis and look at five major aspects like overall preparedness, time for candidates for filling nomination, campaign duration allowed for candidates, multi-scheduling of polling dates, missing names of voters, and number of political parties in the country. Under each of these, I have examined the EC guidelines and given my observations. Surely, my first observation is to compliment the EC for the humongous task on its hand in ensuring fair and free election in the country.
1. Overall preparedness:
Guidelines of the EC: The EC is aware that the 15th Lok Sabha would be ending its present term by 31 May 2014. The first meeting on the plan of conducting the 16th Lok Sabha election was kick-started on 4 Feb 2014 when the EC convened its meeting with all the recognized National and State Political Parties. The first date of election was 7 April 2014.
Observations: It meant that the EC has considered that just two months as sufficient for gearing up the entire machinery and ensure their preparedness in taking up various responsibilities envisaged by the EC. The EC may claim that almost all the political parties are aware that the elections would be held in April-May 2014. So, they have commenced their preparations, strategies and selection of candidates much before the official announcement of schedule of election by the EC. But, a number of political parties would have got very little time -- hardly a month to organize themselves. The time given by the EC appears to be inadequate to provide level playing field for all the political parties. Of course, the EC can take steps only if it is assured that the present ruling party/ies would complete its term as in the present case of United Progressive Alliance (UPA II). Hypothetically, when a ruling team is voted out in the Parliament that forces President’s Rule on the country, then the EC would get a clear six months to conduct the next election. In the present case of UPA II, the EC could have announced its plan to hold the present election as early as December 2013 instead of March 2014. In the US, the election date is announced more than a year ago. Of course, unlike in the US, where the dates of election to the post of the President are pre-determined and fixed, in India there is no certainty about the date of the General Elections. Nevertheless, the EC has a clear six months to announce its schedule of election dates in India, which would have been used in the present case. Perhaps, this may be followed in the next (17th Lok Sabha / Assembly) elections.
2. Time for candidates:
Guidelines: Each candidate is given one week for filing his / her nomination from the date of notification by the EC for a specific Parliament Constituency /Assembly Constituency. For example, if the date of notification by the EC is 14 March 2014, the last date for filing nomination is 21 March 2014 and withdrawal is 24th March 2014.
Observations: In continuation of my observations made above, if the announcement of schedule is made by the EC in December 2013, then most of the candidates would have got their nominations accepted and would have given time for them to start the election preparedness. In addition, the EC should make the last date for filling nomination of candidates uniform for all the constituencies in the country irrespective of the date of election for a particular constituency. In the present case, say for instance, for Varanasi constituency, speculation about the names of candidates was in the air for a long time after the actual elections for various constituencies in the country have been completed. The General election to Lok Sabha should be taken as a single event and not separate events and the pre-poll events should be freezed uniformly across the country. For example, in the present case, the last date for filling nominations might have been uniformly fixed as 21 March 2014 for all the constituencies in the country. This would save the work and resources of the EC across the country and concentrate on the election process which are more resource crunching.
3. Campaign duration:
Guidelines: Campaign for any constituency to end two days before the date of election.
Suggestions: We are in a world where technology has annihilated time and distance. For example, political parties are making their presence in the TV channels almost every day. They use the internet, twitter and other systems to be in touch with their potential voters and continue to market their parties. Say for instance, the visual media provides space for the leaders of political parties to come and make their points heard even though they may not refer to a particular constituency. So, the extant guidelines of the EC are observed more in breach and it may need to be reviewed and if needed be dispensed with as it does not seem to serve any purpose.
4. Multi-scheduling of polling dates:
Guidelines: In the present case of elections to the 16th Lok Sabha, the EC has announced nine stages of polling covering 534 Lok Sabha seats, three state elections and some of the bi-elections to assembly segments.
Observations: I am not sure of any specific guidelines to have the elections spread over a period of time. But, given the intensity of campaigning, the quality of campaigning is reaching a new low with each passing day. It has been becoming more personal ignoring larger issues affecting the country and the people at large. With technology in full blaze, the proceedings of election campaign give a sick feeling and there is a sense of fatigue among the citizens watching the proceedings going on. Almost every State Election Commission offices are inundated with more than 1,000 complaints about violation of code of conduct which mainly on inappropriate / false allegations against the party candidates etc. It is also practically impossible for the EC/ State offices of EC to examine all these complaints and take actions and pronounce punishments wherever needed.
Moreover, the enormous responsibility rests with the state machinery in various states to keep constant vigil in guarding the electronic voting machines (EVMs) from being tampered with, stolen, destroyed till the 16 May 2014 when the results are scheduled to be announced. For election held on 7 April 2014, the responsibility will be very over-bearing for the security forces to hold these EVMs for over a month. In fact, the election to these remote areas could have been held in the last stage as it would have reduced the risk of the safety of EVMs as these areas are more vulnerable than other places. So, if the time for duration of election schedule is reduced to the minimum, it would have avoided the enormous energy and cost on.
Suggestion is to divide the election constituencies into four broad categories: 1. very safe locations; 2. Safe locations; 3. Difficult access/ risky locations; 4. Very difficult/ very risky locations.
Elections should be held to each of the four locations on a particular date across the country in the above order. This would reduce the number of dates of elections to four dates for the whole country. With technology in place, EVMs under use, this is a feasible one. This will reduce the enormous resources needed to mobilize the police/ security forces to keep them on toes, which is about one and a half month (40 days ) in the present election schedule. I also do not see any country where elections are held for such a long period of about one and a half month. I reiterate that with technology in place, it is feasible to make the elections held in a shorter span of time than the present nine stages scheduled.
5. Missing names from voter list:
Electorates: There will be 814.5 million electorates who would exercise their voting rights in the 16th Lok Sabha elections.
Observations: There were huge number of eligible voters not finding their names in the voters list (Deepak Parekh of HDFC is among them who does not find his name). I am also one of those unfortunates who did not find my name in the voters’ list though I am a permanent resident of Pune for about eight years. Besides, I also understand that certain category of defense personnel do not get their voting exercised. So too, huge number of non-resident Indian (NRIs) who may not be able to use the services of Indian Missions abroad for casting their votes in the election.
Another significant category is those whose names are in the list but out of station on the date of polling due to variety of compelling circumstances (marriage, death, hospitalization and official engagements). These otherwise eligible voters also miss out from exercising their right to vote. Such of these eligible voters and those who are missed out of the voters’ list, provision should be made to exercise their votes in a separately designed machine (with technology this is a feasible one) in the nearest polling booth provided they are able to show anyone of the listed documents (EC may follow KYC norms of banks) to the polling officials as proof of identity and address.
Number of Political Parties:
Guidelines: It appears that no specific guidelines available to limit the number of political parties can function in the country.
Observations: It is an open statement that there are a very large number of parties fighting the present election. According to the EC website (10 March 2014), there are six National Parties, about 50 State Parties and 1,593 registered and unregistered parties in the country. The list is increasing with more parties registered with the EC since the last reference date mentioned above. Former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, had stated that, “Every general election has shown the results that people are selecting leaders who focus on economic development in the state and at the centre. The ensuing general election is all the more important as there will be a dynamic change in peoples’ choice of the right type of leadership. I want a two-party system. Even though there are a number of parties in the system, but within a decade or two, India will also move towards a two- or three-party system. That is an ideal system which will have convergence and decision making will be faster.”
It is high time, this issue is addressed squarely and steps taken by the EC to bring norms for registering a political party, at national level and state level in the country. In any case, community or caste based parties should be denied to get registration as a political party.
Since the dates for next general election are pretty far away, the EC may work on the technology based solution to make it possible for all eligible voters to exercise their votes irrespective of their presence in the area of polling of booth.
(Dr S Santhanam holds PhD in Economics and retired as General Manager of NABARD)
It is hoped that the High Court's verdict will make it possible for Air Asia to take to the sky soon and serve the air travellers the best service that money can buy
Mittu Chandilya, chief executive of Air Asia, speaking to newspersons after receiving the operating permit from the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), confirmed that the carrier is hopeful of starting to serve the domestic travellers soon, possibly, in about 8-10 weeks from now, if not earlier.
Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court on Friday refused to stay grant of flying licence to AirAsia India by aviation regulator DGCA.
Initially, it is reported, that they plan to operate with three aircrafts and the fleet is expected to reach eleven by the end of this year.
The exact launch date of this new low cost domestic carrier may be announced shortly, along with the initial destinations that they will cover. It would appear, they would be adding one aircraft more per month to reach 11 by December this year.
It may recalled that, earlier this year, Air Costa was launched from Vijayawada and has been operating in the Southern sector, with a fairly good occupancy rates.
India's largest domestic airline, IndiGo and other operators in the market, though the Federation had made every attempt possible to prevent the entry of Air Asia. In fact, led by Dr Subramanian Swamy of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a case filed against their entry into the domestic market in the Delhi HC.
It is hoped that the High Court's verdict will make it possible for Air Asia to take to the sky soon and serve the air travellers the best service that money can buy.
A few months earlier, there was a debate whether the rule of five aircrafts and 20 years experience should be mandatory before the airline concerned is allowed to travel to foreign destinations. So far, this ruling stands and, if at a later date this is waived or revoked, it would help airlines like Air Asia to extend its service overseas, because of its inherent existing connections.
In due course, Tata-SIA may also get the DGCA clearance. Since Tata Sons are associated with both Air Asia and Tata-SIA, chances of both airlines supplementing and complementing each other on routes will enhance the service to the travellers.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)
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