The Election Commission (EC) of India on Wednesday said it would be logistically equipped to hold simultaneous polls for state assemblies and Lok Sabha by September 2018, reported the Indian Express.
Election Commissioner O P Rawat told reporters, as quoted by the Indian Express, that the government had sought a response from the EC on the holding of simultaneous state and national polls.
The EC had informed the government that funds would be needed for a requisite number of EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) and VVPATs (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) and had received Rs 3,400 crore and Rs 12,000 crore respectively for them.
The VVPAT machine is connected with EVMs and dispenses a paper proof for the voters so that they can verify that their vote is cast correctly.
Rawat was in Bhopal for the launch of the ERONet, the new software system introduced by the Election Commission to check inaccuracy and duplicity of votes.
Rawat said that orders for the machines had been placed with two government undertakings and the delivery had already begun.
The EC will be in a position to hold simultaneous polls from September 2018, by when all machines are expected to be delivered. Around 40 lakh EVMs and VVPATs would be needed for simultaneous polls, said Rawat, after which the Centre will have to take a decision and make necessary legal amendments.
The EC, had last month, directed that VPAT or paper trail machines will be used at polling stations in all future elections.
The poll panel had in its affidavit to the SC on September said that it will be able to conduct the upcoming 2017 Gujarat assembly polls using EVMs with VPATs if it gets 73,500 VVPAT machines by September from manufacturers.
The poll panel had told the SC that around 48,000 units were expected to be delivered by Bharat Electronics Ltd and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd by August 31 while another 25,500 such units would be delivered by September.
Around 70,000 VVPAT units would be required for the Gujarat assembly polls.
In 2018, elections to assemblies in seven states will be due — Gujarat (terms ends January 22); Himachal Pradesh (January 7); Karnataka (May 28); Meghalaya (March 6); Mizoram (December 15); Nagaland (March 13); and, Tripura (March 14). Except for Mizoram, elections in the remaining six will be over by September 2018.
Those in favour VS those against
KJ Rao, former advisor to the Election Commission of India, earlier this year, had told the New Indian Express on how exhaustive election processes in the country keep the election commission busy for almost nine months of the year, making election reforms difficult.
“When elections take place in so many different phases across the states, there is so much pressure. The expenditure incurred, not just by political parties, but also individuals is tremendous. Then the number of people employed for election duty is also a big number. All of this can be minimised,” he said.
“We have so many issues to take care of and there is a lot of pressure at the time of elections - before, during and after. Election season should be scheduled during April and May. Conducting them in two or four phases makes it more systematic. It will also help record real expenses of those contesting elections. A common man can also contest fearlessly. Political consensus is important for this,” he said.
PM Narendra Modi, has on several occasions, called for holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies but with an eye for a 2024 rollout.
The BJP-led NDA government at the Centre appears to have set the ball rolling on the “one nation, one election” slogan. A top BJP source had told the New Indian Express earlier this year that a political consensus was necessary among all parties as the move would entail constitutional amendment.
Former president Pranab Mukherjee had made a strong pitch for it, as well, during his Republic Day address in January this year.
The Niti Aayog has also recommended conducting synchronised two-phase Lok Sabha and assembly elections from 2024 --- in “national interest”. The government think tank has said simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies will ensure minimum “campaign mode” disruption to governance. “This would require a maximum one-time curtailment or extension of some state assemblies,” the Niti Aayog said in its recent report.
The policy think tank has also suggested formation of a group of experts to devise a mechanism for proper implementation of the plan. It said a focused group of stakeholders comprising constitutional and subject matter experts, think tanks, government officials and representatives of political parties should come together to work out appropriate implementation-related details.
CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury had opposed the idea of one nation one election last month, saying it was a move aimed at ushering in a virtual presidential form of election in the country "which is anti-democratic".
He had said that the one nation one election idea "is essentially a presidential form (of election) towards which it (BJP) wants to move, which is anti-democratic."
"In all these measures, the rights of the elected state governments and the statutory rights of the various Constitutional bodies including those of the Parliament are being undermined to advance their agenda," Yechury claimed.
Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi recently advocated holding the polls simultaneously, saying it would curb vote bank politics and maintain the pace of development activities.
On the other hand, while Bihar CM Nitish Kumar declared that simultaneous elections were a good idea that would save costs, but felt it should only be done in 2024, after a possible Constitutional amendment.
“We (JD-U) support simultaneous elections to the state assemblies and Parliament, but it does not mean we want Bihar Assembly polls to be held in 2019,” said Kumar, seeking to clear the air over widespread speculations about whether JD(U) would gain enough if polls are held for Bihar Assembly a year-and-a-half before schedule.
He said elections for Lok Sabha, state assemblies, urban local bodies and panchayat raj institutions should be held simultaneously and in two phases across the country.
Nitish's former ally, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD, currently Bihar’s main Opposition party, which has the largest number of MLAs, had protested against the proposal for simultaneous polls.
(With inputs from Express News Service and PTI)