Salient features of Representation of Peoples Act.

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Relevance: GS-II; Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

Background: India being a democratic country where people elect their representatives must have a mechanism to protect the interests of people and electors work for the interest of people rather than self-interest. With these things in mind, Parliament has enacted two acts Representation of Peoples Act(RPA), 1950, and the Representation of Peoples Act(RPA), 1951 before the general elections. This article is divided into two parts where the first part talks about the features and aspects of RPA, 1951, and the second part about RPA, 1950.

Representation of Peoples act, 1951 – in detail

The act consists of 171 sections in 13 parts.

From the above parts and sections of the act, it is clear that the RPA, 1951 talks more about the qualification, disqualifications, and conduct of elections.

Salient Features of the act: 

1. Qualifications of Elected Representatives in Parliament and Assembly: Apart from constitutional qualifications which are provided for elected representatives under Article 84 and 173 for parliament and assembly respectively, RPA, 1951 also provides the qualifications of representatives.

  • Sec 3 of RPA, 1951 A person is not qualified to be chosen as a representative in the council of states unless he is an elector.
  • Sec 4 of RPA, 1951 deals with the qualification of a member to the House of people:
    • She/He should belong to Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes in case the seat is reserved for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and, is an elector for any Parliamentary constituency.
    • In the case of Sikkim, she/he is an elector for the Parliamentary constituency for Sikkim.
    • In the case of a seat reserved for the Scheduled Tribes in the autonomous districts of Assam, he is a member of any of those Scheduled Tribes and is an elector for the Parliamentary constituency in which such seat is reserved or for any other Parliamentary constituency comprising any such autonomous district
    • In the case of any other seat, she/he is an elector for any Parliamentary constituency.
  • Sec 5 of RPA, 1951 deals with the qualification of a member to the Legislative Assembly:
    • She/He should belong to Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes in case the seat is reserved for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and should also be an elector for any Assembly constituency of the State.
    • In the case of a seat reserved for an autonomous district of Assam, she/he is a member of and is an elector for the Assembly constituency in which such seat or any other seat is reserved for that district.
    • In the case of any other seat, she/he is an elector for any Assembly constituency in that State.

2. Disqualifications of Elected Representatives in Parliament and Assembly: Constitution under Article 102 and 191 talks about disqualification apart from that parliament also prescribed some disqualifications under RPA, 1951 too.

  • Sec 8 of RPA, 1951 – disqualification on conviction of certain offenses which are mentioned in the act:
    • Any form of gratification for electors to vote or to refrain from voting.
    • Practices of untouchability, sati, domestic violence, dowry, etc.
    • Appealing voters to vote or refrain from voting on grounds of religion, race, caste, community, etc.
    • Booth capturing by the candidate or by an agent of the candidate.
    • Promotion of feelings of enmity or hatred between communities.
    • Obtaining any form of assistance from any person who is in service of the government.
    • The offense of bribery or involved in importing or exporting prohibited goods.
  • Sec 9 -If dismissed from government service for corruption or disloyalty: A person who has held an office under the Government of India or under the Government of any State has been dismissed for corruption or for disloyalty to the State shall be disqualified for a period of five years from the date of such dismissal.
  • Sec 9A – A person shall be disqualified and for so long as there exists a contract entered into by him with the appropriate government.
  • Sec 10A– Failed to lodge an account of election expenses within time and failed to justify the reasons.
  • Conviction of any offenses resulting in imprisonment for 2 or more years.

3. Election petitions: RPA, 1951 also deals with the disputes regarding the election and also provides a manner of presentation of election petitions. No election shall be called in question except by an election petition presented in accordance with provisions as mentioned under Sec 80 of RPA, 1951. The high court of the particular state has the original jurisdiction in these matters.

4. Registering political parties: Sec 29A, Part IV A of Representation of peoples act talk about and empower the Election Commission of India to register political parties, associations, and bodies. RPA, 1951 also categorizes parties under national and state parties based on certain criteria. 

“Supreme court also held that right to conserve the language also includes the right to agitate for the protection language. Hence political speeches or promises made for conservation of the languages of a section of people doesn't amount to corrupt practice under RPA, 1951 act”

Now that we saw the RPA, 1951 let's briefly see about RPA 1950.

Representation of Peoples act, 1950 – in detail

The act contains 32 sections and 8 parts.

Salient features of RPA, 1950:

  • Qualifications of voters:
    • Permanent resident of India.
    • Is not less than 18 years of age.
  • Preparation of electoral rolls to reduce the duplicate and ghost voters to ensure free and fair elections.
  • Delimitation of constituencies: Which involves not only redrawing or demarcation of territorial constituencies but also adjustments in seats to ensure equal representation.
  • Allocation of seats to parliament and state legislatures.
Significance of Representation of People Acts

Representation of people act introduced with an objective of free and fair elections has significance in many aspects:

  • Direct and participative democracy as the elections are conducted at constituency level people is empowered with their choice to elect their leaders.
  • Representation of MP's and MLA's based on population with the help of the delimitation commission to ensure equity.
  • Regular updation of electoral rolls keeps a check on ghost and false voters.
  • Decriminalizing politics with sections like 8(4) which prohibit the entry of members with criminal backgrounds.
  • Promote free fair elections as it bans candidates from using money power to influence voters.
  • Transparency in political funding with tools like electoral bonds as only those political parties which are registered under section 29A of the RPA, 1951 are eligible to receive funds.
  • Act as deterrence for candidates to refrain from corruption and malpractices and work for the public.
Challenges of Representation of People Acts
  • Implementation issues by Election Commission of India(ECI), ECI although the constitutional body doesn't enjoy enough powers due to lack of independent staff and separate secretariat for its own functioning.
  • Unlike Germany and Portugal, India has no legal provision to enforce internal party democracy, not even the RPA act.
  • RPA, 1951 doesn't empower ECI to deregister political parties which made people use the provision as tax havens.
  • No power to disqualify candidate prior to conviction, Sec 8 of RPA,1951 deals with disqualification after a person is convicted.
  • Even though the supreme court and RPA mandated for declaration of assets and liabilities, candidates don't disclose the true details.
  • Misuse of Government Machinery, RPAs lack clear provisions, and guidelines on the matters related to the misuse of official machinery that gives an unfair advantage to the ruling party at the time of elections. Ex: Supreme court found Indira Gandhi guilty of electoral malpractice and declared election in the constituency null and void.
  • False affidavits or suspension of material is not included as the grounds of election offenses under the RPA act.
  • Under Section 77 of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951, every candidate shall keep a separate account of all election expenditure with a cap on spending but no such cap or limit exists on political parties.
Measures and Way Forward
  • State Funding of elections can be introduced as suggested by the 2nd ARC report.
  • Empowering ECI with more power and also to deregister political parties.
  • Parliament to enact the law as recommended by the Supreme court to decriminalize politics
  • Include conviction under sec 125A(filing false affidavit) as a ground of disqualification under sec 8(1) and enhanced sentence for false affidavits.
  • Law Commission recommended to set up an independent method of verification of winning candidate's affidavit to check the incidence of false disclosures.
  • Granting Election Commission additional powers under RPA act, 1951 to prosecute any person who committed the electoral offense.
  • Insertion of new section 58B of RPA as propounded by Election commission to take action against parties if political party bribed voters.
  • Making paid news an electoral offense under sec 8 of RPA, 1951. 

Democracy must in essence … mean the art and science of mobilizing the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources of all the various sections of the people in the service of the common good of all” – M.Gandhiji
Hence Representation of People Act helps to achieve a fair, independent, and transparent election process which is the hallmark of democracy and in a way helps to mobilize people by empowering them as said by Gandhiji.

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