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Panel on simultaneous polls holds first meeting

NEW DELHI: The high-level committee formed to explore the feasibility of simultaneous polls under former president Ram Nath Kovind met here on Saturday to decide on its action plan and discuss how to go about holding consultations with the stakeholders.

The government had, on September 2, notified the eight-member "high-level" panel to examine and make recommendations at the earliest on the issue of holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha, state assemblies, municipalities and panchayats.

Describing the meeting as introductory in nature, people aware of the details said it was called to discuss the roadmap on how to go about the mandate given to the panel.

Preparation of working papers, how to go about holding consultations with the stakeholders and research on the subject for an in-depth discussion were also on the agenda of the meeting.

Home Minister Amit Shah, former leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and former Finance Commission chairman N K Singh are among the committee's members.

Congress's leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was also a member. However, in a letter to Shah, he declined to be part of the panel.

"I have no hesitation whatsoever in declining to serve on the committee whose terms of reference have been prepared in a manner to guarantee its conclusions. It is, I am afraid, a total eyewash," Chowdhury had said in the letter.

The government notification said the panel will commence functioning immediately and make recommendations "at the earliest", but did not specify a time-frame for the submission of the report.

The decision to have a committee under former president Kovind had caught opposition bloc INDIA, holding its conclave in Mumbai on September 1, by surprise and further raised the political heat.

The opposition alliance had slammed the decision as a "threat" to the country's federal structure.

The committee also has former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash C Kashyap, senior advocate Harish Salve and former chief vigilance commissioner Sanjay Kothari as its members.

Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal will attend the meetings of the committee as a special invitee, while Law Secretary Niten Chandra will be the secretary to the panel.

The committee will examine and recommend specific amendments to the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act and any other laws and rules that would require amendments for the purpose of holding simultaneous elections.

It has also been tasked to suggest a framework for synchronisation of elections and "specifically suggest the phases and time-frame within which simultaneous elections may be held if they cannot be held in one go...." It will also examine and recommend if the amendments to the Constitution would require to be ratified by the states.

Certain amendments to the Constitution require a ratification by at least 50 per cent of the state assemblies.

The committee will also analyse and recommend possible solutions to scenarios such as a hung house, the adoption of a no-confidence motion or defection or any such event in case of simultaneous elections.

The panel has also been asked to recommend "necessary safeguards for ensuring the continuity of the cycle of simultaneous elections and recommend necessary amendments to the Constitution so that the cycle of simultaneous elections is not disturbed".

The issue of logistics is also on the agenda of the panel as the massive exercise would require an additional number of electronic voting machines (EVMs), paper-trail machines and polling and security personnel.

It will also examine and recommend the modalities of the use of a single electoral roll and electoral identity cards for identification of voters in elections to the Lok Sabha, state legislative assemblies, municipalities and panchayats.

A parliamentary committee had recently said a common electoral roll will help reduce expenses and prevent manpower being deployed for a work on which another agency is already working.

While the Election Commission (EC) is mandated to hold the parliamentary and Assembly polls, the state election commissions (SECs) hold the local body elections. The EC and the SECs are separate bodies under the Constitution with a fixed mandate.

The original proposal was for simultaneous elections to all three tiers of democracy -- Lok Sabha (543 MPs), Vidhan Sabha (4,120 MLAs) and panchayats and municipalities (30 lakh members).

The notification had pointed out that the elections to the Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies were mostly held simultaneously from 1951-52 to 1967, after which the cycle got broken and now, elections are held almost every year and within a year too at different times, which result in a massive expenditure by the government and the other stakeholders.

It also leads to a diversion of security forces and other electoral officers engaged in elections from their primary duties for significantly prolonged periods.

Frequent polls, it said, disrupt developmental work on account of a prolonged application of the Model Code of Conduct.

Top law ministry officials had recently briefed Kovind on the terms of reference of the panel.

Shah and Meghwal had also met Kovind after the panel was notified. Sources had described their meeting with Kovind as a "courtesy call".


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