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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 4 January 27, 2024

Public Notice on ‘One Nation, One Election’ –: Very Serious Electoral Reforms but Very Little Response Time | K Gireesan

Saturday 27 January 2024


On 2 Sep 2023, the Government of India constituted a High-Level Committee (HLC) ‘to examine the issue of simultaneous elections and make recommendations for holding simultaneous elections in the country’ [1]. The HLC comprised of the Former President of India as the Chairperson, Cabinet Minister for Home Affairs as a member, and six other Members [2]. In addition, the Minister of State (Independent Charge), Ministry of Law and Justice, was indicated as a special invitee in the meetings of the HLC and the Secretary to the Govt. of India, Dept. of Legal Affairs as the Secretary to the HLC.

The focus of this article has been limited to analyse the attempt made to seek comments/suggestions from the public and carrying out public hearings on such an important electoral reform.

The preamble to the Constitution of India is a testimony to its strong faith and conviction to sustain the country as a Sovereign, Democratic, Republic. It resolves to assure the dignity of the individual in whatever ways possible and the same was also upheld by the Judiciary whenever there was any aberration. It needs no emphasis that for a vibrant democracy, electoral reforms play a very important role. As the word reform is more dynamic than static, it is time we spent sufficient time deliberating with all the key stakeholders, including the citizens of the country, before going ahead. It is in this context that an attempt has been made to examine the most important recommendations from the past regarding the election reforms in our country.

Important Recommendations from the Past

Electoral reforms have not been widely discussed in the political landscape of our country when mostly compared to many other reforms in the democratic spectrum. However, none could ignore two important documents that came up with several far-reaching recommendations in line with the proposal for ‘One Nation, One Election’ such as the 170th Report of the Law Commission of India (1999) and the 79th Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (2015).

It is noted that wide-ranging consultations with the experts, academic/ research institutions, and the public have been made by the Law Commission of India as well as the Parliamentary Standing Committee before finalizing their reports. An effort has been made here to highlight certain important recommendations made by the specific reports by the Law Commission of India and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law, and Justice about the simultaneous conduct of elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies.

Law Commission of India, led by Justice BP Jeevan Reddy, in its 170th Report on the ‘Reform of the Electoral Laws’ noted that the “cycle of elections every year, and in the out of season, should be put an end to. ………. It is true that we cannot conceive or provide for all the situations and eventualities that may arise whether on account of the use of article 356 (which has come down substantially after the decision of the Supreme Court in SR Bommai Vs Union of India) or for other reasons, yet the holding of 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” [3]. The same report puts forward several measures to improve the electoral system which include suggesting the ‘List System’ for recognized political parties, an amendment to the Tenth schedule to the constitution, curtailing the expenditure on elections, etc.

The 79th Report of the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law, and Justice chaired by chaired by Dr. EM Sudarsana Natchiappan, discussed the feasibility of holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. The Committee recommended that ‘an alternative and practicable method of holding simultaneous elections involves holding elections in two phases. The Committee has envisaged holding of elections of some Legislative Assemblies at midterm of Lok Sabha and remaining by the end of the tenure of Lok Sabha.’ [4] As part of the process, the Committee considered the note submitted by the Legislative Department, suggestions made by the Election Commission of India, representation from various National / state-level political parties, experts, and other key stakeholders. The Parliamentary Standing Committee was constituted on Sep 1, 2014 and submitted its report to both houses of Parliament on Dec 17, 2015. According to the minutes of the Committee, three meetings were held during the period, leading to the preparation of the report.

Pre-Legislative Consultation and Release of Public Notice

Pre-legislative consultation is a process that enables, facilitates, and supports the Government in many ways. It will lead to understanding the policy problem and addressing the same by gathering supportive evidence, diverse views, and multiple choices along with sound reasoning. It helps to perfect the policy objectives and understand the benefits. More importantly, it helps us to realise the key challenges that are required to be settled before undertaking the legislation itself. The process supports the legitimate expectations for enhancing transparency by the Government as well as ensuring citizen participation in the policy formulation process.

To invite suggestions from members of the public on such an important electoral reform, the Secretary of the HLC issued a public notice on 5 Jan 2024. The notice sought suggestions for making appropriate changes in the existing legal administrative framework to enable simultaneous elections in the country. This step is very important as it involves the identification of necessary amendments to the constitution and the related election laws, preparation of common electoral rolls, logistics such as EVMs/ VVPATs, etc. Most significantly, all the suggestions are to be sent latest by 15 Jan 2024 for the consideration of the HLC. This provides a window of ten days (emphasis added) for the general public to share their views, concerns, and suggestions on these very serious electoral reforms. The notice has been issued as part of the mandatory process of the pre-legislative consultations. It is quite significant to note that the process of pre-legislative consultation ‘tends to resolve contentious and complex policies and the areas where Government is seeking a policy to build consensus’. [5]

The Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy, 2014

In the year 2014, the Legislative Department, Ministry of Law and Justice released a policy document that was evolved by the Committee of Secretaries under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary. The Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy evolved in the meeting was the result of recommendations of the National Advisory Council, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution and the practices followed in other countries.

According to the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy, ‘Every Department/ Ministry spearheading the policy initiative, shall proactively publish the draft legislation both on the internet as also through other means. Such details may be kept in the public domain for a minimum period of thirty days (emphasis added) for being proactively shared with the public in such manner as may be specified by the Department/ Ministry concerned.’ [6] The document also emphasises that every draft legislation placed in the public domain through a pre-legislative process should be accompanied by an explanatory note (emphasis added) explaining key legal provisions in a simple language.

Analysing the release of the Public Notice on ‘One Nation, One Election’ with the provisions of the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy, it is evident that the time provided for submission of response by the public is much less. While the policy shows the provision of a ‘minimum of thirty days’, the public notice makes the provision of ten days only. The response time from the public is very little when one recognises the seriousness of the electoral policy reforms.

Even though the Committee was established on Sep, 2, 2023 and more than four months have passed by, no background/consultation paper or discussion note was made available to the public, based on the meetings held by the HLC and inputs received from other key stakeholders during the intervening period. Through the public notice, the HLC has decided to seek suggestions ‘for making appropriate changes in the existing legal administrative framework to enable simultaneous elections in the country’.

Significantly, there is a provision for giving ‘feedback’ on the website exclusively created for One Nation, One Election. Through this, the HLC is trying to seek the biographic data about the individual providing the feedback and the nature of feedback as responses to the following questions.

Do you support the holding of simultaneous elections? Yes/ No
Please give reasons for your answer (Not more than 1000 words).
Any other suggestions (Not more than 1000 words)

This gives the impression that the HLC is just seeking comments from the public on ‘changes in the existing legal administrative framework’. The author could not find the requisite seriousness in the process when such an important electoral reform is under consideration by the Union Government which will have far-reaching consequences in the democratic spectrum and political landscape of the country.

End Note

It is an established norm that any reform in a democratic country like India needs to seek comments and suggestions from the public, by giving them a minimum time of thirty days, as mentioned in the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy, 2014. Manifestation of undue hurry in rushing through the procedures while taking up such an important electoral reform can have consequences to the positive health of democracy. In addition, public hearings also shall be scheduled by the HLC, considering the diversity of the country. Such measures that give centrality to the views of their citizens will only reaffirm the faith of the citizens in the system. Such practices will also help to enlighten the citizens about the scope and extent of change(s) to be brought in, its possible implications, and its expected impact on the ecosystem. Deliberative approaches and practices will only contribute to strengthen the democratic fabric of our country. Such deliberations are all the more significant while taking up complex and contentious policies like the electoral reform of ‘One Nation, One Election’.

(Author: Dr. K Gireesan, Director, MIT School of Government, MIT World Peace University, Kothrud, Pune – 411 038)

[1Government of India (GoI). (2023). Gazette Notification 211, New Delhi: Ministry of Law and Justice, Legislative Department, Sep, 2. For details, please refer

[2As per the Gazette Notification, the HLC consisted of seven members including Shri. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Leader of the Single largest party in the opposition, Lok Sabha. As he declined to accept the offer, the HLC is performing with six members only.

[3GoI. (1999). 170th Report on Reform of the Electoral Law, New Delhi: Law Commission of India, May

[4GoI. (2015). Seventy-Ninth Report of the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, New Delhi: Rajya Sabha Secretariat, Dec, 17.

[5GoI. (2014). Note on the decisions taken in the meeting of the Committee of Secretaries held on 10 Jan 2024 under the chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary, New Delhi: Ministry of Law and Justice, Legislative Department, Feb, 5.

[6GoI. (2014). Pre-legislative Consultation Policy, New Delhi: Ministry of Law and Justice, Legislative Department.

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