Recently, the Election Commission of India asked the Union Law Ministry to consider limiting the seats from which a candidate can contest to just one.
Section 33(7) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 –
- Constitution allows the Parliament to make provisions in all matters relating to elections to the Parliament and State Legislatures.
- In accordance, the Parliament has enacted the following laws —
- Representation of the People Act 1950,
- Representation of the People Act 1951 and
- Delimitation Commission Act of 1952.
- Representation of the People Act 1951 deals with the qualifications and disqualifications of people’s representatives.
- Section 33(7) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 allows a person to contest election for the same office from two constituencies at the same time. On the other hand, Section 70 bars candidates from representing two constituencies in the Lok Sabha/state.
- Prior to 1996, there was no bar on the number of constituencies one can contest from. The provision was then amended and a limit of two seats was set.
- When a candidate contests from two seats, he has to vacate one of the two if he wins both. Following this, by-elections are conducted for the vacant seat.
Constitutional Validity –
- The constitutional validity of Section 33(7), Representation of People Act, 1951 has been upheld by the Allahabad High Court in Raja John Bunch v. Union of India.
- The court observed that Article 101 of the Constitution does not contain any prohibition or restriction on a person contesting an election or filing a nomination from more than one constituency.
- Article 101 states that “No person shall be a member of both Houses of Parliament and provision shall be made by Parliament by law for the vacation by a person who is chosen a member of both Houses of his seat in one House or the other”.
- The court observed that there is nothing inconsistent between Section 33(7) and Article 101.
Why the EC has opposed it?
- Burden on Exchequer —
- This imposes a financial burden on the public exchequer, government manpower and other resources because by-elections have to be held in constituency that has been vacated.
- It leads to wastage of time and is against the spirit of the constitution.
- Power being vested upon the people in power —
- Effective representation, being essential to a democratic system, the process of popular representation assumes importance. This is undermined by the system of multiple elections.
- A democratic government is one in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.
- Here the supreme power is lost from the hands of people, rested in those who are in power. The valuable vote is entirely lost.
- Brings inequality amongst voters —
- The multiple-candidature is also discriminatory in nature as it provides a second chance to the voters of a constituency where the seat is vacated. Hence bringing in inequality amongst the voters in India.
- It is also against the idea of “fair elections”, as the economically weaker candidates, would not have enough to contest from multiple constituencies, and hence the wealthier candidate gets more chances of winning, resulting in an unfair election.
- Vacant constituency goes unrepresented —
- Because the candidate has to resign from one of the two seats and by-elections are to be held within the maximum period of 6 months (Section 151-A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951), the constituency may go unrepresented for the duration of those six months.
- This surely does not amount to effective representation and makes a mockery of the democratic process.
What is the way forward?
- The Election Commission has requested the Supreme Court to amend section 33(7) to restrict politicians to contest elections only from one seat.
- The commission alternatively suggested that in case the provision is not amended, then there should be an explicit provision making it mandatory for a person, contesting and winning from two seats to bear the cost of by-elections which will be held after he vacates his seat.
- Another idea which is perceived as a possible solution is that in case a candidate wins from both the seats, then instead of conducting by-elections, the candidate securing the second-highest vote should be announced as the winner. This will avoid wastage of hard-earned money of the public and reduce pressure on election machinery.