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The Election Commission is capable of holding simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies but the government needs to put in place sound legal provisions to carry out the massive exercise, former chief election commissioners said today.
Their remarks came a day after Election Commissioner O P Rawat said that the poll panel would be "logistically equipped" by September 2018 to hold simultaneous polls for Lok Sabha and assemblies.
"The Election Commission was asked by the Centre as what it would require for becoming capable of holding the parliamentary and assembly polls together.
"In response, the EC had asked for funds to purchase new EVMs and VVPAT (paper trail) machines. The commission would be logistically equipped by September 2018, to hold parliamentary and assembly polls together," Rawat told a press conference in Bhopal yesterday.
Today, Rawat said the poll body requires nearly 24 lakh EVMs and 16 lakh paper trail machines for joint polls. He also said there was a need for a consensus which could be a difficult task.
When asked to comment on the possibility of holding joint polls, former chief election commissioner N Gopalaswamy told PTI: "Administratively, it is not difficult to hold simultaneous polls as the EC has made enough provisions for EVMs and paper trail machines.
"But legal provisions should be in place (before that). Term of some state assemblies will end along with the Lok Sabha. But the term of most other assemblies will continue. To ensure that the terms of all assemblies end together needs an enabling law," he said.
Another former CEC M S Gill said while joint elections can be held, he would not like to comment on the "desirability" of such a move.
"Our Constitution is based on Parliament where states have been provided their own right. They have their own position. How can you put the states and the Centre together? Each state assembly has a different term," he said.
Gill also said that holding of simultaneous polls would need changes in constitution. "Almost 40 per cent of the provisions in Constitution will have be amended...three-fourth states will have to ratify the change...the women's reservation bill, another constitutional amendment, is still pending," he said.
Refusing to get quoted, another former CEC said if Constitution is amended, legal provisions are made, funds are provided and logistics handed over, EC can hold simultaneous polls. "It is its job. It will do, provided law is changed and there is consensus among parties," he said.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi's strong pitch for simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, the law ministry had recently suggested consideration of the issue from the legal and logistical angles separately.
The legal angle would involve constitutional amendments that would be required to be passed before the idea could be implemented on the ground.
The other part deals with logistics, infrastructure and finances.
Following the recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law last December to hold the two polls together, the law ministry had sought the views of the Election Commission.
The commission, while supporting the idea, had made it clear that it will cost a lot and the Constitution will have to be amended to curtail or extend the term of certain state assemblies.
The Commission has told the law ministry that it supports the proposal but cost involved will be to the tune of over Rs 9,000 crore.
Deposing before the parliamentary panel which gave its report on 'Feasibility of holding simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state Legislative Assemblies', the Commission had expressed similar "difficulties".
The Commission has told the government as well as the committee that simultaneous conduct of elections would require large-scale purchase of Electronic Voting Machines and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines.
"For conducting simultaneous elections, the Commission expects that a total of Rs 9,284.15 crore will be needed for procurement of EVMs and VVPATs.
While as per electoral law, elections can be held six months prior to the end of the term of a House, the term of the House cannot be extended except during proclamation of Emergency. Ensuring that the term of houses in states is either extended or curtailed to match with that of the Lok Sabha will require amendment to three to four articles of the Constitution.
President's Rule in states and 'no confidence motions' against governments are situations which may occur. The government will have to see how to deal with such situations when it wants all states to have elections along with the Lok Sabha, the ministry note said.
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