Status quo

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Status quo

Wednesday, 25 October 2023 | Pioneer

Status quo

EC needs a year to prepare for simultaneous polls, effectively ruling out such an exercise in 2024

The concept of "One Nation, One Election," which envisions simultaneous parliamentary and Assembly elections across India, has been a subject of significant debate. While this idea aims to streamline the electoral process, reduce costs and enhance governance efficiency, it faces a considerable challenge at two levels: Conceptual (various nuances of having all elections at one go) and operational. For now, the Election Commission has made it clear that due to a shortage of semiconductors and chips required for the production of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), it cannot be done in 2024. Semiconductors and chips are the lifeblood of electronic devices, including EVMs. Recent global shortages in these crucial components have created substantial challenges for the EC. The commission has expressed the need for a time of up to a year to ramp up EVM production. Additionally, semiconductors are also required for Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines, an integral part of the voting process. The EC had reported its inability to utilise more than 80 per cent of its budget allocated for procuring EVMs due to semiconductor shortages. This issue has been raised with a parliamentary standing committee, chaired by former President Ram Nath Kovind, tasked with assessing the feasibility of simultaneous elections. Both the parliamentary standing committee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have endorsed the idea of simultaneous elections. The 22nd Law Commission is also  examining the feasibility of this concept; it is expected to propose tentative timelines for elections.

While the concept of simultaneous elections has garnered support for its potential to save public funds and reduce administrative burden, it faces constitutional complexities. The 21st Law Commission, which evaluated this issue in 2018, supported the idea but noted that constitutional amendments would be necessary for its implementation. It emphasised the need for further discussions involving all stakeholders before making final recommendations. Furthermore, additional costs of Rs 5,200 crore and Rs 8,000 crore are estimated to be required for the procurement of additional voting machines necessary to hold simultaneous elections in 2024 and 2029, respectively. This would mean extra burden on the exchequer. These estimates also factor in the projected population increase in India by 2029. The concept of "One Nation, One Election" holds great promise in streamlining the electoral process and improving governance efficiency though there would be a lot of issues to be settled before it can be effectively implemented without bruising the Indian democratic system itself. However, for now, the semiconductor shortage and the need for a substantial budget settles the debate in favour of multiple elections. Addressing these challenges will require coordination among the Government, Election Commission and semiconductor manufacturers. As India's democracy further evolves, the feasibility of simultaneous elections remains an important talking point.

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