Yesterday, the BJP announced its candidate for the upcoming election of the President, which is scheduled to be held on July 17. In light of this, we take a look at the manner in which the election to the office of the President is conducted, given his role and relevance in the Constitutional framework.
In his report to the Constituent Assembly, Jawaharlal Nehru had explained, “we did not want to make the President a mere figurehead like the French President. We did not give him any real power but we have made his position one of great authority and dignity.” His comment sums up the role of the President as intended by our Constitution framers. The Constituent Assembly was clear to emphasise that real executive power would be exercised by the government elected directly by citizens. It is for this reason that, in performing his duties, the President functions on the aid and advise of the government.
However, it is also the President who is regarded as the Head of the State, and takes the oath to ‘protect and defend the Constitution and law’ (Article 60 of the Constitution). In order to elect a figure head who would embody the higher ideals and values of the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly decided upon an indirect method for the election of the President.
The President is elected by an Electoral College. While deciding on who would make up the electoral college, the Constituent Assembly had debated several ideas. Dr. B.R Ambedkar noted that the powers of the President extend both to the administration of the centre as well as to that of the states. Hence, in the election of the President, not only should Members of Parliament (MPs) play a part, but Members of the state legislative assemblies (MLAs) should also have a voice. Further, in relation to the centre, some members suggested that the college should comprise only members of the Lok Sabha since they are directly elected by the people. However, others argued that members of Rajya Sabha must be included as well since they are elected by members of directly elected state assemblies. Consequently, the Electoral College comprises all 776 MPs from both houses, and 4120 MLAs from all states. Note that MLCs of states with legislative councils are not part of the Electoral College.
Another aspect that was discussed by the Constituent Assembly was that of the balance of representation between the centre and the states in the Electoral College. The questions of how the votes of MPs and MLAs should be regarded, and if there should be a consideration of weightage of votes were raised. Eventually, it was decided that a ‘system of Proportional Representation’ would be adopted, and voting would be conducted according to the ‘single transferable vote system’.
Under the system of proportional representation, the total weightage of all MLA votes equals the total value of that of the MPs. However, the weightage of the votes of the MLAs varies on the basis of the population of their respective states. For example, the vote of an MLA from Uttar Pradesh would be given higher weightage than the vote of an MLA from a less populous state like Sikkim.
Under the single transferable vote system, every voter has one vote and can mark preferences against contesting candidates. To win the election, candidates need to secure a certain quota of votes. A detailed explanation of how this system plays out is captured in the infographic below.
Sources: Constitution of India; ECI Handbook; PRS.
Coming to the Presidential election to be held next month, the quota of votes required to be secured by the winning candidate is 5,49,452 votes. The distribution of the vote-share of various political parties as per their strength in Parliament and state assemblies looks like this:
Note that the last date for filing nominations is June 28th. In the next few days, political parties will be working across party lines to build consensus and secure the required votes for their projected candidates.
[The infographic on the process of elections was created by Jagriti Arora, currently an Intern at PRS.]
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.