Friday, June 6, 2014
Should Politicians be allowed to contest from more than one seat?
Dr. Devajit Mahanta
On March 14, 2014 filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking to declare as ‘null and void’ the nomination papers of any candidate contesting election from more than one constituency. A bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justice N V Ramana issued notices to Centre and Election Commission (EC) on the petition which also sought direction to candidates not to file nomination papers and contest election from more than one constituency for the same legislative body. If it is accepted, it will be a major change in the election reforms in the country. It might not happen before this year’s Lok Sabha elections but it’s a change for the future.
If Indira Gandhi could run from Medak and Rae Bareli and Sonia Gandhi could run from Bellary and Amethi and Lalu Prasad Yadav can run from Chapra and Madhepura, why should Modi not spread his affections between two seats as well? Apparently Mulayam Singh Yadav is pondering the same strategy for this election. There are instances where supreme leaders of parties have exploited this flexibility. N.T. Rama Rao, actor-turned-politician and founder of the Telugu Desam Party, contested in multiple seats in all the four assembly elections of his political life.
Biju Patnaik, the veteran leader from Odisha, earned the dubious distinction of contesting the most number of seats simultaneously, running for four assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat in 1971.
Now, some of you may be wondering if contesting from two different constituencies is legal. Section 33 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, allows a person to contest a general election or a group of by-elections or biennial elections from a maximum of two constituencies. Section 70 of the Act, specifies that if a person is elected to more than one seat in either House of Parliament or in the House or either House of the Legislature of a State (some states have a Legislative Council or Vidhan Parishad as well, along with the Vidhan Sabha), then candidate can only hold on to one of the seats that won in the election. If the candidate wins from both the seats then candidate have to vacate one of these seats and that constituency will have elections again It's like openly running for two jobs knowing full well you cannot do both. Generally, prime ministerial or chief ministerial candidates do it as a safety measure. To be elected, they need to win one out of the two constituencies.
The rule of limiting the candidate to contesting from a maximum of two seats was introduced in 1996 through an amendment to the Representation of the People Act (RP Act) of 1951. Before this law, leaders were allowed to contest from as many seats as they could.
In a country like India, where people vote for a party rather than for a candidate, such tactics might not harm the chances of the party. If people voted for candidates and not parties, the situation would have been very different. Supporters of the law argue that sometimes if a person if a very strong candidate, it works in the party’s favour to field at two seats. One of them is the safe seat and the other one is the tricky seat. If candidate wins the tricky seat, then will resign from the safe seat and the party can win it back later. If loses the tricky seat then the party will have the satisfaction of knowing that they fielded their best at that seat and in spite of losing, their best candidate is still in the parliament.
The expenses incurred in conducting elections are also massive. It might not seem large in the big scheme of things but it is not insignificant. According to government records, in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the per-constituency cost for conducting the poll was Rs 2-3 crore. The estimates for this year’s Lok Sabha elections are approximately Rs 5 crore per constituency. Also, citizens in our country barely take out time to vote once in five years. If you ask them to vote twice in a month then participation might be affected. In 2011 when Trinamool swept to power in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee was still an MP in the Lok Sabha. So a Trinamool MLA stepped aside so she could run for that seat. Then her Lok Sabha seat was vacated by her stepping down. In the space of a few months, Kolkata saw three elections happen in rapid succession.
Stand for election from two constituencies does not seem morally right. But our politicians are used to stuff which is legally right but morally wrong. When the electoral rules clearly state that an elected member can represent only one constituency and fresh elections should be held in the constituency vacated by a multiple seat winner within six months. So allowing candidates to stand from multiple constituencies results in a waste of resources and does not serve any useful purpose. It is only allow our leaders to exploit the electoral system by making a mockery of democracy. I wish to see the following amendments in our Constitution. First, candidates shouldn’t be allowed to contest from multiple constituencies. Second candidates should not be allowed to contest for either Parliament or the Assembly if they are already a member of either house. Third, if both the above rules cannot be implemented due to any technical reasons, then a candidate winning from more than one constituency should pay for entire re-election expenses. Plus, twice the expense amount towards public and government inconvenience. Fourth, in addition to the third point above, such person should not be allowed to contest any election in future.
The solution to this does not lie in asking the winning leader or party to pay for the by-election. A monetary penalty will not deter these so-called larger-than-life leaders from contesting from multiple seats. But apart from money, it is a waste of time for lakhs of voters. It is also not fair to upcoming leaders, who have to vacate space to so that the bigger leaders can get their second seats. Like “one person, one vote”, the principle of “one leader, one constituency” should also be followed.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Published at Eastern Chronicle on dated 19-04-2014
Do opinion polls affect voters?
By Dr. Devajit Mahanta
In the last few months, there has been a lot of discussion about opinion polls ban or restriction ahead of elections. The Election Commission has pressed the Law Ministry to take a call on ‘restricting’ opinion polls by writing to it just days before the Lok Sabha polls were announced. An all party meeting was called by the Election Commission (EC) of India on April 6, 2004, seeking their opinion on whether opinion polls should be banned or not, a perusal of views expressed by various parties on the issue of opinion poll reveals that barring BJP, almost all parties have sought a ban or restriction of some kind on the dissemination of result of opinion poll ahead of elections. In a communication to the Secretary Legislative Department in the Law Ministry the EC referred to its proposal to amend the law for restricting publication of results of opinion polls. The Election Commission has said that a total of fifteen political parties, including five national and ten regional parties, responded to its proposal on opinion polls and a majority of them supported the ban. Prominent parties which sought a ban or restriction on opinion polls ahead of elections include , CPI-M, BSP, NCP, SP, AIADMK, DMK, JD-U, , SAD, TMC, DMDK, IUML and KJP have favoured a ban/ restriction on polls during elections, saying it affects the voters. The BJP, however, says there should be no ban as this would fall in the realm of a restriction on fundamental right of freedom of special and expression.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national election cell convenor R Ramakrishna has written in the letter on November 6 to the Election Commission of India (ECI) on why opinion polls should be allowed while exit polls banned. The sample which is used in the opinion poll consists of people who may or may not vote, whereas exit polls consist only of persons who had actually participated in the voting. On the other hand, any restriction on opinion polls would fall in the realm of a restriction on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in the Constitution. The saffron party held that the grounds on which the ECI was considering restriction on opinion polls did not get covered by the postulates prescribed in Article 19(2) of the Constitution, which permits restriction for the sake of security and integrity of India.
Law Minister Kapil Sibal informed the Lok Sabha on February 12 that government will take a final call on banning opinion polls only after consulting stakeholders and after the Law Commission submits its comprehensive report on electoral reforms.
Opinion polls ahead of any elections are considered as one of the weapons of the political parties to change the mindsets of voters. Now, it seems that ECI`s possible decision of banning polls might impact a few political parties ahead of Lok Sabha election which is due by May 2014. Several things are being said in support of the demand to ban opinion polls; some of the main ones being first, the polls are not scientific as they are based on the opinions of a very small fraction of voters. Second, the voters are influenced by the polls and thus it is possible for the media to manipulate public opinion using opinion polls. Third, this influence is either illegitimate, for most of the forecasts are not correct, or undesirable anyway as it adversely affects the level-playing ground in politics. Not everyone makes all the three arguments. And not every critic of the impact of opinion polls questions the professional integrity of the pollsters. Yet all these are arguments are widely deployed. Some countries where polls are allowed freely are Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Ireland. On the other hand some countries where there are embargoes on Exit Opinion Polls are China, South Korea, and Mexico.
Opinion polls are recognized around the world as a legitimate exercise. One section of the journalistic in India raised the question, are they being banned because people believe them and may be influenced by them, or because they are motivated and designed to mislead? It is not only an assault on our democracy, which prides itself on a free media, but an insult to the wisdom of the Indian voters who has often surprised both pollsters and politicians. According to them if the opinion polls can be legitimately banned in this country, the next step would be to ban political commentators from giving assessments favourable to some and adverse to some others. A potential loser in an election cannot seek to alter the rules of free speech.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Challenges before Sualkuchi silk industry
(Published in Eastern Chronicle on dated 09-03-2014 at Editorial Page)
By Dr. Devajit Mahanta (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The hand-woven silk fabric of Sualkuchi on Muga and Mulbery occupies a place of eminence in preserving the Assam heritage and culture and plays a vital role in economy of Assam. To enhance the livelihood of a sizeable population and also to create a new brand for Sualkuchi silk, the government should initiate intensive training programme on research and development for product diversification and design innovation. So far Government subsidies for the silk project and marketing schemes to develop the silk industry have hardly influenced the weavers to give up the traditional methods of weaving. The article try to throw light on the nitty gritties of Sualkuchi silk industry and an attempt to clear issues which may be inherent to villagers.
Sualkuchi is about 35 kilometers from Guwahati, spread over an area of 12 square kilometer, four kilometer from East to West and three kilometer from North to South has a population of nearly 50,000 people situated on the north bank of the river Brahmaputra. There is large number of cottage handloom industries for which it is also known as the "Manchester of Assam". On January 9, 1946 Mahatma Gandhi went to Sualkuchi to ask people to weave their clothes instead of buying but when he saw that every family had a loom he said, “Women of Assam can weave dream on their looms.” Former president of India, missile man Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam visited Sualkuchi on 17th October 2006 and mesmerized with the amazing beauty of magical cloth.
The hand-woven silk fabric of Sualkuchi on Muga and Mulbery occupies a place of eminence in preserving the Assam heritage and culture and plays a vital role in economy of Assam. Sualkuchi silk comprises three major type’s muga silk, pat silk and eri silk. Muga is the golden fiber of Assam which is available only in North-East part of India. Sualkuchi alone contributes 75 percent of the total production of Muga in the country. Some popularly known articles of Muga are mekhela sadar, riha, saree etc. With the change of trend nowadays muga is used in making salware, wallet, kurta, jacket, neck tie and also dress materials for designers. Pat silk are the finer varieties of silk and a costly silk to afford for all people. Sualkuchi is also known for its Pat silk. About 2,00,000 kg pat threads are used in manufacturing fabrics in Sualkuchi. Eri silk is made by Samia cynthia ricini which feed on leaves of Castor oil plant. It is also known as Endi or Errandi silk. In Sualkuchi the raw materials of mulberry silk and other silks are basically supplied from Karnataka and Tamilnadu. The weavers have generally become dependent on the intermediary thread suppliers who buy the threads from China.
The Sualkuchi Silk, the queen of all fabrics, is historically one of India’s most important industries which employ most of the villager’s families. The wages of the weavers have increased from Rs. 600 to Rs. 1000 in 1981 to Rs. 1900 to Rs. 2000 in 1999 to Rs. 4000 to Rs. 6000 in 2012. Sualkuchi is a place where the ‘labors’ (weavers) are given monetary advance and normally booked for a year. According to Assam Agricultural Competitiveness Project report the migrant weavers have also created the problems of housing them. Majority of the factory owners have little space to provide shelters to the weavers. The migrant weavers mainly come from Bodo community as well as Assamese and Karbi community. Most of the workers stay in some rented houses constructed by some land lords for the purpose. The migration of female weavers is indicating several aspects of socio-economic life of people. These weavers keep on changing factories in search of high wage
Apart from employment, the Sualkuchi silk industry is also a good foreign exchange earner. India exports silk goods worth over Rs 5,100 crore mostly to the Unites States of America and the European Union. The artisans of Sualkuchi should now try to increase their value added handicrafts product range and establish links with reputed international design and research institutions.
To enhance the livelihood of a sizeable population and also to create a new brand for Sualkuchi silk, the government should initiate intensive training programme on research and development for product diversification and design innovation.
The muga silk of Assam has been registered as the Geographical Indication (GI) of Assam under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999. GI confers the muga silk legal protection to Geographical Indication in India and world over, prevents unauthorized use of a registered GI by others, boosts exports and promotes economic prosperity of producers of goods produced in a geographical territory.
But the Government subsidies for silk project and marketing schemes to develop silk industry there have hardly influenced the weavers to give up the traditional methods of weaving. The existence of mahajans at Sualkuchi has made it a difficult task for the weavers to establish self-help groups. These mahajans own a large number of looms and provide employment to the weavers. Apart from that they lend money to weavers to operate the looms. Thus weavers have no control over their cash inflow. To keeping away the middlemen and mahajans from the entire cycle, the yarn bank and auction market should be further developed for the benefit of the weavers.
Also the industry is facing a big challenge from the China which is dumping their silk products to India at rates much below their production cost. So there is urgent need to modernize the industry by inducting more efficient machines and power looms if it is to compete with the silk produced in China. After the fighting for a foothold in the international markets by fending off the Chinese companies, the global economic meltdown now seems to be playing spoilsport as the exports have gone down considerably.
Lack of consistency in production, neglect of marketing linkages, low end technology use and reluctance to use costlier technologies due to fears that there might not be corresponding improvement in price realizations are the reasons causing imbalance between the demand and supply position in the domestic silk market. Due to such serious problems for which the pride of Assam may go extinct if proper measures are not taken by the State Authority without delay.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Currency Notes Rollback
(Published in Assam Tribune on dated 23-02-2014 at Editorial Page)
Dr. Devajit Mahanta
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issued the circular that after March 31, 2014, will completely withdraw from circulation all bank notes (10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 rupee notes) issued before 2005. The objective of the new circular based on two main pillars, first rationalization of currency notes with better security features and second flushing out the unaccounted or black money stored in bank and personal lockers. The RBI says the rationale is to remove pre-2005 notes from the market because they have fewer security features compared to bank notes printed after 2005.
Now the question arises how general public will know if the rupee note they have is pre-2005 and what`s supposed to do with notes issued before 2005? These notes can be easily identified by check the reverse side of the currency notes where notes have the year of issue printed in the middle of the bottom row whereas the pre-2005 notes do not have this features. If you have such notes you will continue to be use in exchange for goods and services till 31 March and from first April to first July 2014 customer can approach any bank to exchange pre-2005 notes. In case if any customer not able to meet the first July deadline then customer have to go through some limitations like if customer wants to exchange more than 10 of the Rs.500 notes or Rs.1000 notes, then require to furnish proof of identity and residence for changing these at a bank where he or she does not have an account. Customer can exchange any number of notes through their own bank account. However, the bank existing rules on depositing and withdrawing cash will remain same. If account holder deposits cash above Rs.50000 the bank will ask for PAN card number and if deposit above Rs.10 lakh in a month, a system generated cash transaction report will go to Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and income tax authorities.
Going by the RBI’s Annual Report for 2004-05, 36,984 million pieces of notes valued at Rs 3,61,229 crore will be impacted as they are issued. Out of 421 million Rs.1000 notes valued at Rs.42082 crore and 3055 million Rs.500 notes valued at Rs.152728 crore. The RBI new circular will make it difficult for those who have a huge amount of money to short the notes and get them exchanged. If we look back to history to curb unaccounted money RBI demonetized Rs.1000 and Rs.10000 bank notes which were then in circulation were demonetized in January 1946. Again 1000, 5000 and 10000 rupee notes were re-introduced in 1954 and these bank notes were again demonetized in January 1978, of these Rs.1000 note was reintroduced later. Every time unaccounted or black money holder finds out the ambiguity and loopholes in the law and take the advantage of that. But for the first time RBI declared based on certain year to rollback of all currency notes to flash out unaccounted money and hoping that this time there has to be some success. Still sincere effort by Government and RBI require in certain aspects like unaccounted or black money holder may buy gold or any foreign currency like dollar, euro etc. through the hawala route instead of going to the bank of exchange of notes and gets a tax notice. Also require to monitor that such high value notes could go in for more spending through the cash route or they may approaching agent who will swap the notes for a commission. RBI generally manages currency in India and Government decides on various denominations of notes to be issued. RBI coordinates with the Government in the designing and security features of the notes. Also on behalf of the Government estimates the quantity of notes that are likely to needed denomination wise and accordingly printed out.
Parliament Disruption costly affairs
(Published: Assam Tribune, 09-08-2013 at Editorial Page)
By Dr. Devajit Mahanta (Email: email@example.com)
The Parliament of India founded in 1921 is the supreme legislative body in India. The Parliament comprises the President of India and the two Houses, Lok Sabha (lower house) and Rajya Sabha (upper house). Lok Sabha which also known as the House of the People all of its members (at present, the strength of the house is 545 members) are directly elected by citizens of India on the basis of universal election process except two who are appointed by the President of India.
The objectives of parliamentary oversight are to ensure transparency and openness of executive activities. Parliaments shed light on the operations of government by providing a public arena in which the policies and actions of government are debated, scrutinized, and subjected to public opinion. Another important objective are provide financial accountability. Parliaments approve and scrutinise government spending by highlighting waste within publicly funded services. Their aim is to improve the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of government expenditure.
According to data maintained by the Lok Sabha secretariat, 14th Lok Sabha (2004-2009) lost more than 22 percent of the parliament time. Even 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014) so far lost around 32 percent of the parliament time due to contentious issues like Telangana, 2G, Commonwealth games, Coalgate and regional parties also being major disrupters. All political parties should realize that they have important legislation to discuss during the session. When there are differing opinions on the same issue, the only way the nation can choose the most convincing argument is through a debate in Parliament.
A estimate made by the Lok Sabha Secretariat puts the cost of an hour work of parliament at Rs. 25 Lakh, the total exchequer lost about rupees two crore a day. Add the number of days and hours wasted the loss figures at the end of each session is huge. Now the question arise who is responsible or liable for disruption of hours and money, our parliamentarians or our system?
As per the official legislative research report Lokh Sabha which normally meets for five hours a day during the 15th session was in for just about half-an-hour as it had adjourned due to the pandemonium of BJP`s and other opposite parties parliamentarian though they have important legislation like food security bill and others to discuss in this session. The role of opposition should protect the rights of citizens by monitoring policies and examining potential abuses of power, arbitrary behaviour, and illegal or unconstitutional conduct by government. Under parliament rules, disruptions are allowed to show the protest of the opposition on the functioning of the Government but when the protest shown inside the house, the Government gets the accountability. Even in the earlier when parliament loss valuable times in most of the cases the members worked late and compensated the loss parliament time. Now it has become a fashion among the big or small parties to disrupt the parliament even for their regional issues. Many times people try to blame the individual parliament members for disruption but we should understand that no individual MP can take a decision on disruption. It is the party leadership that takes decision on disruptions and the members have to simply obey the directions to draw the national attention of their local issues through TV channels and print media. Why bother organising a rally at Ramlila Maidan to make their point, when they can get TV cameras to cover the ruckus they create in Lok Sabha? Importance given by the media for the negative stories is also the main contributor for such disruptions. Question arises whether we the people of India spend thousands of crores of rupees on elections only to see this.
Generally out of 547 MPs only about 60 to 70 MPs (all parties) contribute nearly seventy percent of the debates and questions, so when the regional parties disrupt the parliament time active MPs lost their chance to protest their views in spite of their preparations. During the last Lok Shabha session one of the MPs bill got listed where he planning to submitted a Private Members bills to start an institution to refinance education loans. This institution can help cores of poor students to pursue higher education at very low cost finance facility. But unfortunately this bill not able to introduced due to disruptions, even if it introduce in the next session the question arise whether parliament will have time to discuss on this bill. This is just an example; many of such bills may go without discussion in the Lok Sabha. The particular MP got dejected in spite of his preparations not able to introduce the bill and speak on this. During the last 15th session of Lok Shabha 370 bills were planned for introduction but only 172 could be introduced due to disruption of hours. Out of this 172 only 99 bills have been passed but pathetically even in this 29 bills were passed without discussion.
If we closely analyse the situation, disruption helps the Government more by not facing Parliament, while blame goes to opposition. When the country is facing lot of challenges from within and outside such disruption was fuel to fire among the citizens and may lose faith on the democratic institutions. In such a glooming scenario rather than Government taking the advantage since they do not want to face the parliament due to various scams and mishandlings it is the responsibility of the Government to enter into dialogue with the opposition leaders and find a way out to run the parliament smoothly in the interest of the nation. As parliament is the place where selected MP can express their public view there should be the rule for protest but if protest cost loss of parliament hours then it should get compensated by sitting extra hours. So far there is no rule that stipulates minimum number of working days for parliament, now the time has come that parliament should pass a resolution to work for a minimum number of days without disruption. This is one of the best way can find a solution to make every Indian make feel proud of our constitutional democracy.