Importance of People’s Representation Act in Elections

Introduction: 

The Act was enacted for the citizens of the country to know about the candidates who fill the seats of the Houses of the Parliament and each State based on the terms of their qualification and disqualification. This will benefit the citizens to vote as it will help them get to know the best candidate while standing for elections. A candidate gets disqualified if there are any criminal allegations against them or even if the applicant has been sentenced previously for any offense that they have committed or been complicit in. 

Representation of People’s Act, 1951: 

This Act comes under Article 324 to 329 of Part XV of the Constitution. It deals with the electoral system of the Country. The Constitution allows the Parliament to make provisions in matters relating to the elections in the Parliament and State Legislatures. In exercise of this power, the Parliament has enacted laws like the Representation of the People Act 1950 (RPA Act 1950), Representation of the People Act 1951 (RPA Act 1951), and Delimitation Commission Act of 1952. This Act deals with the disqualification of people’s representatives as mentioned above. ‘Election’ is defined in Section 2 (d) of Representation of People Act, 1951 as “an election to fill a seat or seats in either House of Parliament or the House or either House of Legislature of a State.” ‘Conviction’ is defined as “an outcome of a criminal prosecution which concludes in a judgment that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged.”

Grounds of disqualification for a Representative: 

Section 8 deals with the disqualification of representatives on conviction for certain offenses. This Section enumerates that:

  • If Persons contesting elections are charged with any criminal charges or have been convicted for the same earlier, they lose their right to stand for election according to the statute. 
  • Section 8(1) states that a person convicted of an offense punishable under
    • Section 153A i.e. offense of promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony or Section 171E i.e. offense of bribery or Section 171F i.e. offense of undue influence or any offense relating to rape given in Section 376 or offense of cruelty towards a woman by a husband or any relative of husband or subsection (2) or (3) of Section 505 which states offense of making statement creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes or offense relating to such statement in any place of worship or any assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies; of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).
  • Similarly, there are various other offenses categorized that will lead to disqualification if committed including-For instance:
  • Shall be disqualified, where the convicted person is sentenced to –
    • Only fine, for six years from the date of such conviction;
    • From the date of such conviction, imprisonment shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release.

Remedies available to the candidates who are disqualified:

  • Even if a person is on bail, after the conviction and his appeal is pending disposal, he is disqualified from contesting an election as per the guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India.
  • The Supreme Court of India, in its judgment of the Lily Thomas v. Union of India case, decided that any MP, MLA, or MLC who is sentenced for a crime and granted at least two years of imprisonment, loses membership of the House with immediate effect.
  • This is opposed to the earlier position, wherein sentenced members clutched their seats until the point that they exhausted all judicial remedies in lower, state, and Supreme Court of India. 
  • Further, Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, which permitted elected representatives three months to appeal their conviction, was proclaimed unconstitutional by Justice A. K. Patnaik and Justice S. J. Mukhopadhaya.
  • If an aggrieved person wants to complain about the corrupt practices going on in any phase of the election process then he can file a complaint addressed to the Election Commission of India.

How did the Act affect the West Bengal 2021 elections: 

A plea challenging the Election Commission’s decision to conduct assembly elections over eight phases in West Bengal was filed in the Supreme Court. The plea filed seeks the apex court’s direction to the poll panel to stop it from conducting eight-phase elections in the state as it violates Article 14 (right to equality before law) and Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution. The plea, which may come up for hearing in a few days, also seeks a direction to the Central Bureau of Investigation to register an FIR into the alleged chanting of religious slogans during electioneering in West Bengal.

The chanting of “Jai Shri Ram, and other religious slogans are creating disharmony” and is an offense under the IPC and the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the plea said. “Whether using a provocative religious slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is for electoral benefits as well as others is violative of S.123(3) & 125 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951,” reads the legal question raised in the plea.

Any kind of appeal by any religious persons, group, temple, mosque, church, and others to cast their vote in favor of a specific party must be counted as a serious violation of the law. It is an offense not only under the Act but also under the IPC. The plea reads, it is akin to committing fraud upon the constitution of India alongside citizens of India, and they must be barred from fighting elections or participating in any election in the future. The plea also stated that the election commission and parliament did not frame any law and rule to conduct elections in different phases to favor any one  political party in any state. Therefore the impugned decision of the election commission is unlawful and violated Art.21. It must be quashed and elections must be held in one phase in Bengal as well as in Assam, like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry.

Sanchali Bhowmik, a 2nd-year law student (L.L.B Hons.) at Jindal Global Law School

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