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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 17 May 2024

  1. Can Political Parties be De-Recognised or De-Registered?
  2. Trade Imbalance


Context:

The Election Commission of India (ECI) emphasized in its report on the enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) that star campaigners should set a positive example and not undermine societal harmony. This has sparked a discussion regarding the ECI’s authority to address MCC violations.

Relevance:

GS2- Elections

Mains Question:

How does derecognition differ from deregistration of political parties in India? Analyse whether the Election Commission should have the power to de-recognise a political party for violation of the MCC. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Registered Parties:

  • Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, outlines the requirements for registering a political party with the ECI.
  • To register, a political party must submit its memorandum/constitution, affirming true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India and commitment to the principles of socialism, secularism, democracy, and the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.

Registered political parties receive several benefits:

  • Tax exemption for donations under Section 13A of the Income Tax Act, 1961,
  • A common symbol for contesting general elections to the Lok Sabha/State Assemblies,
  • Twenty ‘star campaigners‘ during election campaigns.
  • Currently, there are 2,790 active registered political parties in India.

Recognised Parties:

A registered party that is not recognized is called a Registered Unrecognised Political Party (RUPP). Political parties can gain recognition as a ‘national’ or ‘State’ party under the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, based on winning a certain number of seats or securing a required percentage of votes in general elections to the Lok Sabha or State Assembly.

What is a National Party?

A national party has a presence across the entire country, unlike a regional party, which is limited to a specific state or region. Although being a national party can confer a certain prestige, it does not necessarily equate to significant national political influence.

Conditions for Declaring a Party ‘National’:

According to the Election Commission of India’s Political Parties and Election Symbols, 2019 handbook, a political party is considered a national party if it meets one of the following criteria:

  • It is recognized in at least four states; or
  • Its candidates have secured at least 6% of the total valid votes in at least four states (in the latest Lok Sabha or Assembly elections) and the party has at least four MPs in the last Lok Sabha polls; or
  • It has won at least 2% of the total seats in the Lok Sabha from at least three states.

How is a Party Declared a State Party?

  • A party is recognized as a state party if it meets any of the following conditions:
  • It secures 6% of the valid votes polled in the state at a general election to the state legislative assembly and wins 2 seats in the same state legislative assembly.
  • It secures 6% of the total valid votes in the state at a general election to the Lok Sabha and wins 1 seat in the Lok Sabha from the same state.
  • It wins 3% of seats in the state legislative assembly at a general election or 3 seats in the assembly, whichever is greater.
  • It wins 1 seat in the Lok Sabha for every 25 seats or any fraction thereof allocated to the state at a general election to the Lok Sabha from the state.
  • It secures 8% of the total valid votes polled in the state at a general election to the Lok Sabha from the state or to the state legislative assembly.

There are presently six ‘national’ parties and sixty-one ‘State’ parties. Recognised parties receive additional benefits, such as a reserved symbol during elections and forty ‘star campaigners’.

Derecognition v/s Deregistration:

Derecognition:

  • Derecognition involves the Election Commission of India (ECI) withdrawing its recognition of a political party, which then becomes a registered-unrecognized party.
  • Under Paragraph 16A of the Symbols Order, the ECI can suspend or withdraw recognition of a party for not adhering to the MCC or following the Commission’s lawful directions.
  • This power was exercised once in 2015 for three weeks against the National People’s Party for failing to comply with ECI directives. Stricter enforcement of this provision would help ensure compliance with the MCC.

Grounds for Derecognition of a National Party (as per ECI):

A political party may lose its national party status if:

  • It fails to secure at least 6% of the total votes in a general election to the Lok Sabha or the legislative assembly of the concerned state and does not have at least 4 MPs elected in the last Lok Sabha polls, or it fails to win 1 seat in the Lok Sabha from the same state.
  • It fails to win at least 2% of the total seats in the Lok Sabha from at least 3 states.
  • It does not secure 8% of the total valid votes in the state at a general election to the Lok Sabha or the state legislative assembly.
  • It fails to submit its audited accounts to the ECI on time.
  • It fails to hold its organizational elections on time.

Deregistration:

Deregistration involves canceling a political party’s registration, preventing it from contesting elections. The ECI does not have the power to de-register parties.

A party can only be de-registered if:

  • Its registration was obtained by fraud;
  • It is declared illegal by the Central Government; or
  • It amends its internal constitution and notifies the ECI that it can no longer adhere to the Indian Constitution.

Suspected Money Laundering and Tax Exemptions:

  • There is suspicion that many unrecognised parties may be involved in money laundering, exploiting the income tax exemptions they receive.
  • The Association of Democratic Reforms, an electoral watchdog NGO, reported that the number of registered unrecognised political parties has doubled in the past decade.
  • Section 13A of the Income Tax Act, 1961, grants political parties a 100% exemption on income from house property, other sources, capital gains, and voluntary contributions, provided they meet certain conditions.
  • The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) prohibits using caste and communal sentiments to secure votes and voter bribery or intimidation.
  • Recognised parties have violated the MCC, but the ECI’s response has often been limited to temporarily barring leaders from campaigning for a few days.

Challenges for the ECI:

Undefined Scope of Powers

  • There is significant confusion regarding the extent and nature of the ECI’s authority to enforce the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and other election-related decisions.
  • The MCC only provides guidelines for candidates, political parties, and governments, without specifying what actions the ECI can take.

No Legal Backing for MCC

The MCC, based on consensus among political parties, lacks statutory backing and is enforced solely through the ECI’s moral and constitutional authority.

Transfer of Officials

A major concern is the abrupt transfer of senior officials under state governments by ECI orders. These transfers are governed by rules under Article 309 of the Constitution, which the ECI cannot bypass under the powers purportedly conferred by Article 324.

Conflict With the Law

  • The MCC prohibits ministers from announcing financial grants, promising infrastructure projects, or making ad hoc government appointments.
  • However, Section 123(2)(b) of the RPA, 1951, states that declaring public policy or exercising legal rights should not be seen as interfering with electoral freedom.

Lack of Enforceability

  • The ECI lacks the power to disqualify candidates involved in electoral malpractices, being limited to directing the registration of a case.
  • In the 2019 general election, the ECI admitted to the Supreme Court that it was “toothless” in dealing with inflammatory or divisive campaign speeches.

Recommended Actions:

  • The ECI, in its 2016 memorandum on electoral reforms, proposed legal amendments to empower it to de-register parties.
  • The Law Commission’s 255th report (2015) on electoral reforms also recommended amending the law to allow de-registration of political parties that do not contest elections for ten consecutive years.

Conclusion:

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has significantly bolstered the confidence of Indian citizens in maintaining the integrity of the country’s elected legislative bodies. However, legal ambiguities must be addressed to enable the ECI to better ensure the proper functioning of democracy through free and fair elections. It is time for substantial changes to protect this constitutional body, moving beyond mere rhetoric about its independence. Furthermore, the Commission must update its approach to ensure that the foundation of democracy remains strong.



Context:

India’s merchandise exports, which contracted by over 3% in 2023-24 due to various geopolitical and logistical disruptions affecting global trade, have shown a slight improvement this year. In April, exports reached $34.99 billion, marking a modest increase of 1.07% or $370 million compared to the previous year.

Relevance:

GS3- Growth & Development

Mains Question:

The next government must act swiftly to boost export growth and maintain manageable trade balances. Discuss in the context of India’s trade imbalance.

More on the Export Related Statistics:

  • 17 of India’s top 30 export items experienced year-on-year declines, up from 13 in the prior month. These declines are notable given the already weak base; in April 2023, exports had dropped by 12.7%, with 20 of the top 30 items seeing reduced export values.
  • The slight growth in April was primarily driven by four sectors: pharmaceuticals, chemicals, electronics, and petroleum products, the latter rebounding from a 35% contraction in March due to rising global oil prices.
  • Conversely, the increase in oil and gold prices in April pushed the import bill up by 10.25% to over $54 billion. Consequently, the trade deficit last month was the highest in four months at $19.1 billion, a 22.5% increase from March’s deficit.

Analysing the Future Prospects:

  • If the OPEC+ group decides to extend output cuts in their early June meeting, oil prices could reach $100 per barrel.
  • Additionally, a continued global trend of investing in gold as a safe haven could drive up gold prices further, putting additional pressure on India’s trade balance and the rupee.
  • Global trade volumes, which declined by 1.2% in 2023, are projected to increase by 2.6% this year, according to the World Trade Organization.
  • The Indian government is optimistic that lower inflation and improved growth rates in key Western markets will boost demand.

Way Forward:

  • India must refine its strategy to take full advantage of this potential demand surge and ensure the resulting benefits are distributed across the domestic economy.
  • This involves addressing the issues facing labor-intensive sectors such as garments and footwear, where India has been losing ground to competitors like Bangladesh and Vietnam. These sectors, along with gems and jewelry, continued to decline in April.
  • It is also crucial to address quality concerns in products such as spices and drugs, as well as labor and environmental issues in shrimp exports.

Conclusion:

In addition to the measures listed above, agricultural exports, currently restricted to combat inflation, need to be revitalized soon, especially with positive monsoon forecasts. The next government must act swiftly to boost export growth and maintain manageable trade balances.


June 2024
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