Interview: E.M. Sudarshana Natchiappan

‘Many provisions of the model code have no enforceable mechanism’

Print edition : August 19, 2016

E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan addressing the media in Chandigarh on August 26, 2015. Photo: AKHILESH KUMAR

E.M. SUDARSANA NATCHIAPPAN, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, has been in the forefront of the move for changes in the law that will allow the Election Commission (E.C.) to function more effectively. The committee travelled to Chennai on June 21 to hear views of political parties and other stakeholders on “enforcement of model code of conduct and its culmination”. It also held sittings in Bengaluru and Bhopal and will meet their representatives at other State capitals in due course. The committee, which had submitted a set of recommendations on electoral reforms in 2013, will again submit a report, this time exclusively to ensure more teeth to the E.C.. There was a new sense of urgency in bringing in electoral reforms after the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly elections, Natchiappan told Frontline in an interview. Excerpts:

The parliamentary committee you chair made extensive recommendations in 2013 on “Electoral Reforms: Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Anti Defection Law” in which you flagged issues relating to the election expenditure ceiling limit, statutory backing to the Model Code of Conduct and power to derecognise political parties. Your committee also submitted a report on “Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies” in 2015. What has happened since?

An Action Taken Report has to be given to us every 90 days. But nothing much has happened after the submission of Report 2013. But for the simultaneous poll in two bands [which is what the 2015 report dealt with], Report 2015 is in active consideration of the government. Media reports indicate that the government intends to call for an all-party meeting for consensus as the committee suggested.

The committee had a sitting in Chennai on June 21. What prompted a sitting here, that too soon after the 2016 Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly elections?

It is after the recent incidents of postponement of polls in two constituencies in Tamil Nadu that the committee took up the issue [of powers to the E.C.] again. The E.C. has no powers under the Model Code of Conduct to take such a decision unless there is a statutory sanction for such a conclusion. Similarly, many of the provisions of the code have no enforceable mechanism. If somebody has violated the law [during the conduct of an election], there is the possibility of complaining to the E.C. or the Observer [of that constituency]. But this does not mean that he will be prosecuted.

Take the case of Madhya Pradesh. In the 2013 Assembly elections, about 2.58 lakh complaints were given [by individuals and political parties to the E.C. and its officers]. Only 324 have moved on to the FIR stage. In the 2014 parliamentary elections there were 1.49 lakh complaints, of which only 215 have reached the FIR stage.

There are instances like these in each State. When we studied this in depth, we came to know that the Model Code of Conduct was created on the premise that the E.C. can make its own rules based on the Representation of the People Act, 1950, and 1951.

Then why can the E.C. not take action?

The current situation is that three important things are absent. One, there is no specific penal provision which can be depended upon to immediately set the law into motion under the Criminal Procedure Code after the filing of an FIR; secondly, there should be an institutional mechanism to investigate. There should be a Director of Prosecution to prosecute such cases before a court. Also, special fast-track magistrate courts need to be set up to try cases relating to violation of the Model Code of Conduct.

In the absence of these three, the E.C. cannot be effective. It is for the government to take action.

Our committee has given notice to governments and the E.C. to come forward with their views on these issues. After hearing the E.C., the government, the political parties and all other stakeholders, the committee will arrive at its conclusions and a recommendation will be submitted to both houses of Parliament.

R.K. Radhakrishnan

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