April 20, 2024

Lukmaan IAS

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IT IS TIME FOR COMPREHENSIVE REFORMS TO MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS

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THE CONTEXT: Recent Supreme Court judgment on the Chandigarh mayoral election points to issues in elections to municipalities. Elections to local governments, i.e. panchayats and municipalities, is another matter altogether. The Court intervention is only primary step and a lot more remains to be done to strengthen local governments in India.

ISSUES:

  • Delay in municipal elections: One of the major issues with respect to municipal elections is that they are not being held on time. The CAG’s audit reports of 17 States on the implementation of the 74th Constitution Amendment Act (74th CAA) observes that over 1,500 municipalities did not have elected councils in place during the audit period of 2015-2021 across states. Among larger cities, the Greater Chennai Corporation had elections in 2022 after a gap of nearly six years, and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi had elections after a delay of seven months. While the municipal corporations of Mumbai and Bengaluru are awaiting elections for over one and a half years and three years after the expiry of the term of their previous elected councils.
  • Delay in formation of elected councils: Even if elections to urban local governments were held there is delay in councils which led to delay in elections of mayors, deputy mayors and standing committees. For example, in Karnataka, there was a delay of 12-24 months in the formation of elected councils after the declaration of election results in most of the 11 city corporations.
  • Undermine trust in electoral process: When elections are not well-managed, transparent, and held in time they can undermine trust and legitimacy in the electoral process and the outcome. It can also increase polarization, resentment, or hostility among different groups in society.
  • Impede Development and Stability: Irregularities in municipal elections can disrupt economic activities, public services, or infrastructure. It can also create insecurity, uncertainty, or instability that can deter investment, growth, or cooperation.
  • Challenges with Functioning of state election commissions: Although the state election commission (SEC) on many occasions tried to exercise its duties enshrined in the constitution of India, they struggled to assert their independence. There are issue of lack of autonomy and lack of safeguard for There is also non-uniform service conditions for SECs as Article 243K(2) states that the tenure and appointment will be directed as per the law made by the state legislature and thus each SEC is governed by a separate state Act. Though municipal legislation across 35 States and UTs reveals that except Meghalaya, all States have constituted SECs but only 11 have empowered them to conduct ward delimitation. The Court has emphasised that in the domain of elections to panchayats and urban local governments under Part IX and Part IXA of the Constitution, SECs enjoy the same status as the Election Commission of India.

THE WAY FORWARD:

  • Holding timely elections: The challenge of holding timely elections requires determined enforcement with the Supreme Court’s intervention. There is a need to follow constitutional provision related to holding of regular elections. Article 243U of the 74th CAA stipulates that the duration of urban local governments is five years and that an election to constitute an urban local government should be completed “before the expiry of its duration”. Further, in case of dissolution of the elected council by the State, the election should be held before the expiration of a period of six months from the date of its dissolution. The Supreme Court states in Suresh Mahajan v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2022) that this constitutional mandate is unchallengable.
  • Government policy intervention: There is a need for greater policy attention in at least the following aspects:

1. Discretion of government officials in scheduling elections on time

2. Possibility of the State government exercising undue influence on officials to delay elections

3. Discretion of officials in identifying the presiding officer

4. Possibility of conflict of interest as the presiding officer may not be independent

5. Manual ballot paper-based process.

  • Roadmap for free and fair election: A reform road map for timely, free, and fair elections is much-needed. The terms of mayors, deputy mayors and standing committees being less than five years furthers this challenge by necessitating frequent elections, sometimes even annually. In India, 17% of cities including five of the eight largest ones have mayoral terms less than five years. There is a need for standardisation of mayoral terms of five years.
  • Strengthening role of SEC: To deal with challenges with respect to the conduct of municipal elections, State Election Commissions need to play a far more significant role. Articles 243K and 243ZA of the Constitution state that the superintendence, direction, and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to panchayats and urban local governments shall be vested in SECs. Strengthening state election commission can help in improving the quality and credibility of local elections.

Unlike the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, where there is a clear distinction between the legislature and the executive, in the case of a municipality, the mayor heads both the elected and the administrative wings of the city government. Given the reluctance of State governments to strengthen SECs, it is high time that Supreme Court needs to bring greater significance to municipal elections.

THE CONCLUSION:

Electoral reforms to the local bodies are much needed democratic exercises in terms of timeliness of elections, the manner in which they are convened, and the nature in which power is transferred from one government to another. In this respect, it is time to evaluate a potential role for the SECs in the local body elections by providing required finance and autonomy for free and fair election.

UPSC PREVIOUS YEAR QUESTIONS

Q.1 Discuss the role of the Election Commission of India in the light of the evolution of the Model Code of Conduct. (2022)

Q.2 There is a dire need for electoral reforms in India, discuss various challenges related to elections in India and suggest some measures to resolve them. (2023)

MAINS PRACTICE QUESTIONS

Q.1 Local body elections are an important aspect of democracy in India as they empower the people at the grassroots level to participate in governance and development. Comment

Q.2 Irregularities in local body elections undermine the democratic process and the rule of law. Critically analyse the statement.

SOURCE: https://epaper.thehindu.com/reader

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