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Following the elections of the Vice President of India

August 5th, 2017 No comments

The elections for the next Vice-President of India are underway today.  The current Vice President Dr. Hamid Ansari will complete his second five-year term on August 10, which is in a few days.  While the BJP-led NDA’s candidate is Mr. Venkaiah Naidu, Dr. Gopalkrishna Gandhi is the joint candidate fronted by 18 opposition parties led by the INC.  In this post, we take a closer look at the constitutional mandate and role of the Vice-President of India and how the elections for the post will play out today.

Constitutional mandate as Vice President

The Vice-President is the second-highest constitutional office in India.  He acts as the President in the absence of the incumbent President, and is the ex officio Chairman of Rajya Sabha.  As an indication of his bipartisanship and apolitical character, the Vice-President does not hold membership of any political party or any other office of profit.   Further, given his constitutional stature, the statements given by the Vice President assume national significance.  The outgoing Vice President’s statements on issues like press freedom and welfare of minority communities led to several media debates and attracted widespread attention.

Vice-President’s role as Chairman of the Rajya Sabha

As Chairman of Rajya Sabha, the Vice President is the final authority on the interpretation of the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure for all house-related matters.  His rulings constitute binding precedent.  He also determines whether a Rajya Sabha member stands to be disqualified on grounds of defection.  Such powers make him an important stakeholder in the functioning of our parliamentary democracy.

The Vice President is also vested with powers to improve the functioning of the Upper House.  There have been several instances where the current Vice President has used his powers to address issues ranging from improving the productivity of question hour, reducing prolonged disruptions, maintaining decorum in the House, to facilitating discussion on issues of national importance.

Addressing disruptions: In March 2010, the Vice President ordered seven MPs to be evicted from the House for causing disruptions during the discussion and passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill.  More recently, in December 2015, the Vice President called for an all-party meeting during the last leg of the then ongoing Winter Session to discuss the matter of continuous disruptions in the House.  The remaining three days of the session after the all-party meet recorded 79% productivity, while the House had recorded overall productivity of 51% that session.

Functioning of Question Hour: In another instance, in November 2014, the Vice President issued a direction to conduct question hour from 12 noon to 1 pm instead of the originally allocated first hour of the day.  This was seen as an attempt to address the issue of low productivity of question hour mostly due to disruptions at the start of the day. However, question hour productivity has not shown any significant improvement yet, with continuing disruptions.

Parliamentary Privilege: Parliamentary privilege refers to rights and immunity enjoyed by Parliament and MPs, which may be necessary to effectively discharge their constitutional functions.  When disregarded, the offence is called a breach of privilege and is punishable under law. The Chairman is the guardian of these privileges and can also issue warrants to execute the orders of the House, where necessary.  In 1967, one person was held to be in contempt of Rajya Sabha for throwing leaflets from the visitors’ gallery of the House.  The then Vice President, in accordance with the resolution of the House, had sentenced the person to simple imprisonment, till the conclusion of that session.

The Chairman’s consent is required to raise a question of breach of privilege.  He also has the discretion whether to refer it to the Privileges Committee, and whether to accept the committee’s recommendations.  In October 2015, the current Vice President had referred the matter of a member’s controversial “terrorists in Parliament” remark to the Privileges Committee upon receiving complaints from several opposition MPs.

Role in Parliamentary Committees and other institutions

Parliamentary committees review proposed laws, oversee activities of the executive, and scrutinise government’s expenditure.  The Vice President nominates members to various Parliamentary Committees, appoints their Chairmen and issues directions to them.  The Vice President also nominates members of the Rajya Sabha on various bodies such as the Haj Committee, the Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies, Courts of several universities such as JNU, etc. He is also on the three-member Committee which nominates the Chairman of the Press Council of India.

So, how is the Vice President elected?

Unlike Presidential elections, MLAs do not have a vote in these elections.  Dr. B R Ambedkar had explained why during the constituent assembly debates: “The President is the Head of the State and his powers extend both to the administration by the centre as well as of the states… But when we come to the Vice-President, his normal functions are merely to preside over the Council of States.  It is only on a rare occasion, and that too for a temporary period, that he may be called upon to assume the duties of a President”.

Therefore, the Electoral College for the Vice- Presidential elections consists of all 790 MPs.  The elections are conducted using the system of single transferable voting that results in (approximately) proportional representation.  The voting is done through secret ballot implying that parties cannot issue whips to their MPs and anti-defection laws do not apply.

Each voter has one vote with the same value of 1.  Every voter can mark as many preferences, as there are candidates contesting the election.  It is necessary for at least the first preference to be marked.  A candidate needs to win a required number of votes (or the quota) to be elected.  If no one achieves the required quota after the first round of counting the first preference votes, the candidate with the lowest votes is eliminated.  His votes are then transferred to the second preference mentioned (if any) on the votes he received.  If no one achieves the required quota again, the process is repeated till either:

  1. a candidate achieves the required quota, or
  2. all candidates, except one, are eliminated.

The upcoming Vice Presidential elections

Let us now determine the quota required for victory in today’s election. The total value of votes of the electoral college is divided by two, and one is added (to ensure a majority) to the quotient to determine the quota. Hence, the quota is calculated as:

Quota    = 790/2 + 1 = 395 + 1= 396

The candidate who gets 396 votes will win the election.  If no candidate gets to this mark, the second and further preferences may be counted until the mark is reached or all candidates, but one, are eliminated.

We know the number of seats held by each party in Parliament. Let us assume that all MPs vote along their party line.  The position of the NDA and UPA is depicted in the figure below at the two ends of the chart.  All other major parties and independents are marked in the middle.

VP quota

We observe that, while the BJP falls short of the quota by 58 votes, the shortfall can be overcome if NDA allies TDP, Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal, LJP and PDP support its candidate.

With the voting taking place this morning, the outcome and results will become clear by later today.  It is hoped that the new Vice President will uphold the twin constitutional mandates as the second highest constitutional functionary and the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, just as his distinguished predecessors have done.

Scenarios for upcoming Rajya Sabha, Presidential and VP elections

March 7th, 2012 No comments

Several Rajya Sabha seats go to elections this year. The President and the Vice-President are also due to be elected by August. We analyse the impact of the recent State Assembly elections on the composition of the Rajya Sabha and the outcome of the Presidential polls.

Rajya Sabha – How will its composition change?

Since Rajya Sabha members are elected by the elected members of State Legislative Assemblies, a change in the composition of State Assemblies can affect the composition of Rajya Sabha.  A total of 61 Rajya Sabha seats are up for election in April and July.  This includes 10 seats from Uttar Pradesh and 1 seat from Uttarakhand.

In light of the recent Assembly elections, we work out two scenarios to estimate the composition of Rajya Sabha in 2012.

Members of Rajya Sabha are elected through the system of proportional representation by means of the Single Transferable Vote (STV). In an STV election, a candidate is required to achieve a certain minimum number of votes (called the ‘quota’) to be elected.  (For more details on the STV system, click here)

For instance, in the case of Uttar Pradesh (UP) 10 Rajya Sabha seats go to election this year.  Candidates will be elected to these 10 seats by the 403 elected MLAs of the Uttar Pradesh State Assembly.  Each MLA will rank the candidates based on his/ her preference. After successive rounds of elimination, candidates who are able to secure at least 37  {or 403/(10+1) } votes will be declared elected.

In the new UP Assembly, Samajwadi  Party (SP) has a total strength of 224 members. As a result, SP can elect at least 6 (or 224/37) Rajya Sabha MPs of its choice.  BSP’s strength of 80 will allow it to elect 2 (or 80/37) MPs to Rajya Sabha. Similarily, the BJP with a strength of 47 MLAs can have one candidate of its choice elected to the Rajya Sabha.  This leaves 1 seat.  The fate of this seat depends on the alliances that may be formed since no other party in UP has 37 or more seats in the Assembly.  If the Congress (28 seats) and RLD (9 seats) join hands, they may be able to elect a candidate of their choice.

We build two scenarios which give the likely range of seats for the major coalitions and parties. The actual result will likely fall between these scenarios, depending on alliances for each election.

Of the two scenarios, Scenario II is better for the UPA. It is based on the assumption that the UPA is able to put together the necessary support/ alliances to get its candidates elected to seats with indeterminate status.  Scenario I is based on the assumption that the UPA is not able to put together the required support. As a result, the seats in question get allocated to candidates from other parties/ coalitions. (See Notes for the composition of the coalitions)

Composition of Rajya Sabha

Party/ Coalition Current composition Scenario I Scenario II
Total seats

245

245

245

UPA

93

95

98

NDA

66

67

65

Left

19

14

14

BSP

18

15

15

SP

5

9

9

BJD

6

8

7

AIADMK

5

5

5

Nominated

7

12

12

Others

21

20

20

Vacant

5

0

0

It appears that there would not be a major change in the composition of the Rajya Sabha.

Which party’s candidate is likely to become the next President?

The next Presidential election will be held in June or July.  The electoral college for the Presidential election consists of the elected members of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and all Legislative Assemblies. Each MP/ MLA’s vote has a pre-determined value based on the population they represent. For instance, an MP’s vote has a value of 708, an MLA from UP has a vote value of 208 and an MLA from Sikkim has a vote value of 7. (Note that all MPs, irrespective of the constituency or State they represent, have equal vote value)

As is evident, changes in the composition of Assemblies in larger States such as UP can have a major impact on the outcome of the Presidential election.

The elections to the office of the President are held through the system of proportional representation by means of STV (same as in the case of Rajya Sabha).  The winning candidate must secure at least 50% of the total value of votes polled.  (For details, refer to this Election Commission document).

By this calculation, a candidate will need at least 5,48,507 votes to be elected as the President. If the UPA were to vote as a consolidated block, its vote tally would reach 4,50,555 votes under Scenario II (the one that is favourable for the UPA).  Therefore, the UPA will have to seek alliances if it wants a candidate of its choice to be elected to the office of the President.

Scenarios for Presidential elections

(figures represent the value of votes available with each party/ coalition)

Party/ Coalition Scenario I Scenario II
UPA

4,48,431

4,50,555

NDA

3,05,328

3,03,912

Left

51,574

51,574

BSP

43,723

43,723

SP

69,651

69,651

BJD

30,923

30,215

AIADMK

36,216

36,216

Others

1,11,166

1,11,166

Total

10,97,012

10,97,012

Minimum required to be elected

5,48,507

5,48,507

What about the Vice-President?

Elections to the office of the Vice-President (VP) will be held in July or August.  The electoral college will consist of all members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha (i.e. both elected and nominated). Unlike the Presidential elections, all votes will have an equal value of one.

Like the President, the VP is also elected through the system of proportional representation by means of STV.  The winning candidate must secure at least 50% of the total value of votes polled.

Presently, two seats are vacant in the Lok Sabha. If we exclude these from our analysis, we find that a candidate will need at least 395 votes to be elected as the VP.  Under our best case scenario, the UPA holds 363 votes in the forthcoming VP elections.

As is the case with Presidential elections, the UPA will have to seek alliances to get a candidate of its choice elected to the office of the Vice-President.

Scenarios for VP elections

(figures represent the value of votes available with each party/ coalition)

Party/ Coalition

Scenario I

Scenario II

UPA

360

363

NDA

216

214

Left

38

38

BSP

36

36

SP

31

31

BJD

22

21

AIADMK

14

14

Nominated

14

14

Others

57

57

Total

788

788

Minimum required to be elected

395

395

Notes:

[1] UPA: Congress, Trinamool, DMK, NCP,Rashtriya Lok Dal, J&K National Conference, Muslim League Kerala State Committee, Kerala Congress (M), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Sikkim Democratic Front, Praja Rajyam Party, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi

[2] NDA: BJP, JD(U), Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal

[3] Left: CPI(M), CPI, Revolutionary Socialist Party,All India Forward Bloc

 

An Analysis of the Deferred Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010

September 7th, 2010 1 comment

Given India’s anti-defection laws, the Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010 should have sailed through smoothly in the Rajya Sabha.  The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on August 26 in spite of opposition from many MPs who raised a number of pertinent issues. However, in a surprising turn of events the Bill faced opposition from Congress Rajya Sabha MP K. Keshava Rao (along with other Opposition members).  It forced the Minister of Human Resource Development Shri Kapil Sibal to defer the consideration and passing of the Bill to the Winter session of Parliament.

Such an incidence raises the larger issue of whether an MP should follow the party line or be allowed to express his opinion which may be contrary to the party.  Last year, Vice President Hamid Ansari had expressed the view that there was a need to expand the scope for individual MPs to express their opinion on policy matters.  One of the ways this could be done, he felt, was by limiting the issuance of whips “to only those bills that could threaten the survival of a government, such as Money Bills or No-Confidence Motions.”  There are others who feel that MPs should not oppose the party line in the House since they represent the party in the Parliament. (See PRS note on The Anti-Defection Law: Intent and Impact).

The Educational Tribunals Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 3, 2010, seeks to set up tribunals at the state and national level to adjudicate disputes related to higher education.  The disputes may be related to service matters of teachers; unfair practices of the higher educational institutions; affiliation of colleges; and statutory regulatory authorities.  The tribunals shall include judicial, academic and administrative members.  The Bill bars the jurisdiction of civil courts over any matters that the tribunals are empowered to hear.  It also seeks to penalise any person who does not comply with the orders of the tribunals. (See the analysis of PRS on the Educational Tribunals Bill).

The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, which submitted its report on August 20, 2010.  Although the report expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of inputs from states and universities and made a number of recommendations on various provisions, the HRD Ministry rejected those suggestions.

Some of the key issues raised by the Standing Committee are as follows:

  • The Committee observed that no specific assessment about quantum of litigation has been carried out. It recommended that before setting up tribunals, the magnitude of cases and costs incurred in litigation should be assessed. A minimum court fee should be fixed to ensure viability of the tribunals.
  • The Committee pointed out that the status of existing tribunals is unclear. Also, since the number of educational institutions vary from state to state, the Committee felt that one educational tribunal per state cannot be made uniformly applicable.
  • The Committee stated that there is no clear rationale for fixing a minimum age limit of 55 years for members of the tribunals. It recommended that competent people with adequate knowledge and experience, irrespective of age, should be considered.
  • In case there is a vacancy in the chairperson’s post, other two members shall hear cases in the state educational tribunals. However, this leaves the possibility of cases being heard without a judicial member (since chairperson is the only judicial member). The Committee pointed out that a recent Supreme Court judgment states that every two-member bench of the tribunal should always have a judicial member. Also, whenever any larger or special benches are constituted, the number of technical members should not exceed the judicial member. The Committee were of the view that certain provisions of the Bill violate the Supreme Court judgment and should be re-thought.
  • The Committee recommends that the term “unfair practice” should be defined in the Bill so that it is not open to interpretation by the courts.
  • The Selection Committee to recommend panel for national tribunal includes the Chief Justice of India and Secretaries, Higher Education, Law and Justice, Medical Education and Personnel and Training as members. The Committee recommended that there should be adequate representation of the academia in the Selection Committee.
  • The Committee proposed that the government needs to identify the lacunae of the existing tribunal systems and ensure that orders of the tribunals have some force.