INDIAN JUDICIARY AND ELECTORAL REFORM

INTRODUCTION

“My attempt is to point out that we need an electorate which is impartial, independent and intelligent. If the electors do not interest themselves in National affairs and remain unconcerned with what goes in their midst, and if they elect men with whom they have private relations or whose aid they need for themselves, the state of things can do no good to the country; contrary, it will be harmful,[1]words by Mahatma Gandhi, depict the need for electoral reforms and its importance for the benefit of the citizens as well as the country. If we talk about what is electoral reform, it means the implementation of those measures in order to attain a good democracy by contesting election in a fair means.

INDIAN PERSPECTIVE

While discussing the Indian perspective of Electoral reforms, the role of the honorable Supreme Court cannot be overlooked. The Indian judiciary, especially the honorable Supreme Court of India, plays the role of a watchdog and tries to ensure a balance between the functioning of the three organs of the Government. India, being the largest democratic nation in the world, it is necessary for election to be conducted in a fair manner within the country. In order to protect the very essence of democracy, the election procedure should not be influenced by money or muscle power, as it is well said by Fatos Nano, “organizing free and fair election is more important than the result itself.”

Indian Judiciary has played a vital role to take best out of both worlds, and reforming the electoral system of India. It has always tried to protect the interest and rights of public and tried to reform all those aspects of law which became a hurdle in the development of nation. When we focus on the Indian Constitution, it is observed that the Part XV of the Constitution deals with election, and consists of Article 324 to Article 329 (A)which has many provisions like:-

  • The appointment of the Election Commission along with its functions in order to regulate, control or direct the elections of the country.[2]
  • Conduction of one general electoral roll for every territorial constituency and ensuring that no person shall be disqualified from voting on the grounds of religion, race, caste or sex at any electoral poll.[3]
  • Along with this, the Constitution of India has the provisions like the concept of adult suffrage as a basis for election[4], power of the Parliament to make election provisions related to legislatures[5] and power of State Legislatures to make election provisions for itself.[6]

LEADING CASE LAWS IN ELECTORAL REFORMS

The involvement of Indian judiciary in order to bring about reforms in the electoral system is not hidden from anyone as there are several judgments given by honorable Supreme Court from time to time, to bring about a reform in the existing system of election. As the saying, ‘that a stitch in time saves nine,’ small but effective steps and judgments have been taken by the honorable Supreme Court that has brought a change in electoral system. Some of these landmark judgments are as follows:-

  • Introduction of the principle of NOTA that is, “none of the above” in the ballot list is seen as a major reform by judiciary as it brings a right not to choose any of the candidates and reject them as unworthy[7]. This reform has been introduced through the case of People’s Union for Civil Liabilities (PUCL) v. Union of India.[8]
  • The case of Jan Chukidari v. Union of India,[9] decided by Supreme Court on 10th July 2013, introduced a reform related to voting rights of  persons who are in lawful custody or police custody. It was stated that though they are not entitled to stand for election but, a person in preventive detention, has the right to vote and this cannot be escaped.[10] This reform has been introduced to protect the general public from those who are in lawful custody, so that the purpose of election did not get spoiled.
  • Another landmark case of Lily Thomas v. Union of India,[11] disqualifies any MLA or MP from contesting elections if they are found guilty of a crime, and sentences them to more than two years of imprisonment.[12]
  • In the case of Resurgence India v. Election Commission of India,[13] it was observed that the returning officer can reject nomination papers of a candidate, in case the candidate does not disclose the information regarding their assets or their criminal background.[14]
  • Another case of Union of India v. Association of Democratic Reform 2002,[15] played the role of mover and shaker in elector reform, in this case, the honorable Supreme Court issued guidelines which direct the Election Commission to call for information by issuing necessary orders in exercise of its power under Article 324 of The Constitution of India. As per these guidelines, the Election Commission can obtain certain information in order to determine the perfect candidate. The information that can be obtained are as follows:[16]
  • Criminal background of candidate, whether he has been convicted or charged for any criminal offense in past.
  • Criminal charges against candidate, whether any of his charges pending in court under which punishment is of two years or more.
  • Financial position of candidate under which his or her assets information like bank balance movable property etc.
  • Financial liability of candidate, whether he is liable to pay any dues to government or any public financial institution.
  • Educational background of candidate.
  • In the case of Union of India v. Ramesh Dalal,[17]the honorable Supreme Court observed that any MLA or MP will be disqualified, if his conviction or offence has been proved in the court and after the court has given its final order.[18]
  • The report number 255 by the Law Commission of India headed by Justice A. P. Shah, introduced certain reforms in the nation’s electoral system like, limiting the candidate expenditure, maintaining of annual amounts, regulation of political party and inner party democracy, etc.[19]

CONCLUSION/ SUGGESTION

The role of Indian Judiciary has worked as a key tool in reforming the electoral system of India, but it is not wrong to say that the dream of free and fair elections in the country has not been achieved. There are many reforms and steps taken by the judiciary in order to ensure a free and fair electoral system for the country, yet there is still an urgency for more efforts to achieve the end of idle elections. There is no doubt in saying that the reforms done by Judiciary and Election Commission has taken the country out of the storm, but there is a need for more reforms in order to ensure clean politics. Considering the saying, ‘an onus of preservation is worth a pound of cure,’ which means, one can prevent a problem with little effort as fixing it later is hard. Therefore, if proper steps are taken in the beginning then, it will not be disastrous at the end. Being a democratic country, the electoral system should be sound enough to provide justice to people who give their precious vote.

CREDITS: Divya Soni, S. S. Jain Subodh Law College


[1] Positive vibes (33rd May, 2021), https://positivevibes.today/article/newsview/128.

[2] India Const. art. 324.

[3] India Const.  art. 325.

[4] India Const.  art. 326.

[5] India Const. art. 327.

[6] India Const.  art. 328.

[7] Danish MC, Electoral Reforms: Role of The Supreme Court of India, Nickeled and Dimed ( March 06, 2019)  https://nickledanddimed.com/2019/03/06/electoral-reforms-role-of-the-supreme-court-of-india/

[8] Judgment dated 27th Sept 2013, W. P. (civil)  No. 161 of 2004, (2013)10 SCC 1,

[9] 2004 Judgment upheld by Supreme Court on 10th July, 2013.

[10]Electoral Reforms Decisions by Supreme Court (21 Sept, 2017), https://www.civilsdaily.com/electoral-reform-decisions-by-supreme-court/

[11] (2013)7 SCC653.

[12] Danish MC, Electoral Reforms: Role of The Supreme Court of India, Nickeled and Dimed ( March 06, 2019) https://nickledanddimed.com/2019/03/06/electoral-reforms-role-of-the-supreme-court-of-india/

[13] Judgment dated 13th Sept, 2013, W. P.(civil)  No. 121 of 2008.

[14] Danish MC, Electoral Reforms: Role of The Supreme Court of India, Nickeled and Dimed ( March 06, 2019)  https://nickledanddimed.com/2019/03/06/electoral-reforms-role-of-the-supreme-court-of-india/

[15] (2002)5 SCC294 AIR 2002, SC 2112

[16] Awariwar Mamta, Electoral Reform: Supreme Court Guidelines, 56-58, Bharati law reform, manupatra (July-Sept, 2014) http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/46C4D6D6-4C63-40CE-B10C-AE353CD9A9F6.pdf.

[17] Judgment given on 2005.

[18] Danish MC, Electoral Reforms: Role of The Supreme Court of India, Nickeled and Dimed ( March 06, 2019) https://nickledanddimed.com/2019/03/06/electoral-reforms-role-of-the-supreme-court-of-india/

[19]255th report of Law Commission suggested electoral reforms, https://www.careerride.com/view/255th-report-of-law-commission-suggested-electoral-reforms-20200.aspx.

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