Govt issues notification forming Ram Nath Kovind headed ‘One Nation, One Election’ committee

Govt issues notification forming Ram Nath Kovind headed ‘One Nation, One Election’ committee

On Saturday (2 September 2023), the Ministry of Law and Justice issued an official gazette announcing the establishment of an 8-member High-Level Committee (HLC) for analysing the feasibility of ‘One Nation, one Election’. As per the official notification, the HLC will examine the issue of simultaneous elections and make recommendations for holding simultaneous elections in the country. 

While it was announced yesterday that former president Ram Nath Kovind will head the committee, the gazette notification has announced the names of seven other members. The committee includes Home Minister Amit Shah, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Apart from Chairman Ram Nath Kovind, the other members of the committee are:

  1. Amit Shah – Union Minister of Home Affairs and Cooperation Ministry
  2. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury – Leader of Single Largest Party in Opposition, Lok Sabha
  3. Ghulam Nabi Azad – Former Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha 
  4. N.K.Singh – The Former Chairman of the 15th Finance Commission
  5. Subhash Kashyap – Former Secretary General of Lok Sabha
  6. Harish Salve – Senior Advocate 
  7. Sanjay Kothari – Former Chief Vigilance Commissioner 

It noted that Minister of State (Independent Charge) Ministry of Law and Justice Arjun Ram Meghwal will attend the meetings of the HLC as a Special Invitee. 

Additionally, Niten Chandra who is the Secretary to the Government of India, Department of Legal Affairs will be the Secretary to the HLC. The HLC will have its headquarters in New Delhi and it will conduct meetings and other functions as and when required.

An important aspect of the notification is that the committee has not been given any time frame to submit its recommendations. Instead, it has been asked to “commence functioning immediately and make recommendations at the earliest.”

Moreover, while there were speculations that ‘One Nation, One Election’ would be the agenda of the upcoming special session of parliament, that seems highly unlikely. Even though the committee has been asked to make recommendations at the earliest, it is unlikely that the committee will be able to prepare any report in just three weeks. As this involves a major legislative change, the committee will need to study a large number of laws ans aspects, will need to have consultations with a large number of people, and that will take some time.

History and Need for Simultaneous Elections

At the outset, the gazette highlights that elections to the House of the People (Lok Sabha) and Legislative Assemblies of States were mostly held simultaneously from 1951-52 to 1967. The election cycle was broken and now elections are virtually frequent events. 

Subsequently, the notification highlights the shortfalls of holding these recurrent elections. These include massive expenditure, diversion of security forces and other electoral officers from their primary duties for significantly prolonged periods, disruption in developmental work on account of prolonged application of Model Code of Conduct, etc. 

It further highlighted the observations of the Law Commission of India in its 170th Report on Reforms of the Electoral Laws. The commission observed that the nation has to put an end to the cycle of elections every year and must go back to the situation where the elections to Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies were held simultaneously. 

The Law Commission’s report stated that holding a separate election to a Legislative Assembly should be an exception and not the rule. The rule ought to be ‘one election once in five years for Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies’.

Additionally, the gazette notification cited the report of the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice. The committee in its 79th Report on “Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Election to the House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies submitted in December 2015 recommended an alternative and practical method of holding simultaneous elections in two phases. 

Stating that holding simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and State assemblies will be in the national interest, it added that the Government of India has constituted a High-Level Committee (HLC) to examine the idea of ‘One Nation, one election’. 

According to the official notification, the HLC has started its functioning immediately and it will have to make recommendations at the earliest. Without a specific timeline, it is seemingly difficult that the matter of ‘One Nation, one Election’ will be raised in the special sitting of Parliament from 18 to 22 September. 

Terms and references of the High-level committee

According to the official notification, the HLC will have the following directives –

  1. Examine and make recommendations for holding simultaneous elections to the House of the People (Lok Sabha), State Legislative Assemblies, Municipalities, and Panchayats. 

It has to do this while keeping in mind the existing framework under the Constitution of India and other statutory provisions. It will also need to examine and recommend specific amendments to the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act, 1950, the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and other amendments to rules or laws for the purpose of holding simultaneous elections. 

  1. Examine and recommend if the amendments to the Constitution would need ratification by the States. 
  2. Analyse and recommend possible solutions in a scenario of simultaneous elections emerging out of a hung House, adoption of a no-confidence motion, defection, or any other event. 
  3. 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. 

This will also include suggestions for amending the Constitution and other laws in this regard and propose such rules that may be required in such circumstances. The HLC will recommend necessary safeguards for ensuring the continuity of the cycle of simultaneous elections. The HLC will have to recommend the required amendments, if any so that the cycle of simultaneous elections is not disturbed. 

  1. Examine the logistics and manpower required. This will include EVMs, VVPATs, etc., for holding such simultaneous elections. 
  2. Examine and recommend the modalities of use of a single electoral roll and electoral identity cards for identification of voters in elections to the House of the People (Lok Sabha), State Legislative Assemblies, Municipalities, and Panchayats. 

As per the official statement, the HLC can seek representations, and communications that can assist it in finalising its recommendations

According to the notification, the Legislative Department, and Ministry of Law and Justice will assist the HLC including providing logistical and manpower-related support. 

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