Lok Sabha debate over poll reforms remains inconclusive

December 2nd, 2009 - 9:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party New Delhi, Dec 2 (IANS) The Lok Sabha Wednesday failed to pass a bill on minor electoral reforms with many members demanding more radical changes in the election law.
The debate over the Representation of the People (Second Amendment) Bill remained inconclusive and will be continued Thursday.

The bill seeks five amendments, which include more than doubling the security deposit of candidates, making it difficult for non-serious and dummy candidates to contest elections.

Law Minister Veerappa Moily, while introducing the bill, said he was not happy with minor amendments and promised that the government will bring in more comprehensive changes in the electoral process soon.

The bill is the first attempt at reforming the country’s poll process in nearly 60 years. But many MPs in the house during the debate over the bill pointed out that the scope and range of the amendments was limited and demanded more.

The amendments come more than five years after the Election Commission made a 22-point demand for electoral reforms. The Rajya Sabha last Wednesday unanimously passed the bill.

It raises the security deposit for general candidates for the Lok Sabha poll to Rs.25,000 from Rs.10,000. The Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes candidates will have to cough up Rs.12,500. And for assembly polls the security deposit has been increased to Rs.10,000 from Rs.5,000.

This has been done to discourage non-serious candidates from contesting elections. Dummy or non-serious candidates, many MPs said, were making a mockery of Indian democracy by creating a vote division to favour a particular candidate.

The bill also puts a ban on publishing and broadcasting of exit polls in between two phases of elections. It also proposes to set up a new appellate authority within a district for speedy disposal of electoral disputes.

The list of officials associated with conducting of elections is proposed to be widened to include employees of local authorities, universities, government companies, public sector units (PSUs) and banks so that action is taken in case they are found furthering the interest of any candidate.

Earlier, the Election Commission was not empowered to take action against the erring employees but the amendment empowers the poll panel to do so now.

During the debate, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Nishikanth Dubey said the amendments were insufficient and demanded “radical” changes in the Peoples Representation Act.

Dubey asked the government to bring in changes that will end “criminalization of the politics” in the country.

“A criminal jailed for two years is not eligible to vote, but a convict can contest election from a prison. What is this? Cannot you do something about this and stop criminalization of Indian politics,” Dubey said.

MPs also targeted the government over “paid news stories” published in media glorifying a candidate irrespective of his or her merits and demerits.

“What are you doing about this? Local media is pressurising candidates for paying to publish news stories for or against them. Let’s talk honestly even if it invites a media wrath. This happens,” said Dubey.

While Rajiv Ranjan Singh of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) demanded that the poll panel be made more accountable, Kalyan Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress said the Election Commission should be made more independent.

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