[In-depth] Bye-Elections in India – What, Why, When and How are they conducted?

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The ongoing Assembly polls in India have made elections the burning subject of discussion in the past few weeks. States such as Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are having Assembly elections whereas in some States by-polls are being held e.g., Majuli seat in Assam. This brings to notice the types of elections that are conducted in India. While General elections and Assembly elections are well-known, there is comparatively lesser awareness among people regarding by-polls. Thus, here we are going to discuss what are by-polls, why are they conducted and their various aspects with reference to India.

What are bye-elections?

  • ‘Election’ simply refers to the act of choosing someone for an official job, in a formal and organised manner, usually done by way of voting.
  • Bye-elections refer to such elections that are conducted to fill previously elected offices that have fallen vacant, before the completion of tenure of such elected offices.
  • In other words, when the Election Commission of India (ECI) conducts an election to fill up vacancies in seats of either House of Parliament or either House of State Legislature before the normal term of expiration to frictionlessly continue the democratic process, without waiting for the next General Election to commence, it is called bye-election in India. 
  • Bye-elections (also known as By-elections or Special elections) are commonly referred to as ‘by-polls’ in India.
  • They derive their legitimacy in India from the Representation of People Act (RPA), 1956 where the term ‘Bye-election’ finds its mention.
  • A member elected by a bye-election will have a term of office equal to the remaining tenure of the preceding member.

Why are they conducted?

  • As per Sections 147,149,150 and 151 of the Representation of People Act (RPA), 1956, when the seat of a member elected to
    • Council of States (or)
    • House of People (or)
    • State Legislative Assembly (or)
    • State Legislative Council
  • becomes vacant, declared vacant or the member’s election to any of such bodies is in itself declared to be void before the expiration of term of office, bye-elections are conducted.

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When are they conducted?

  • As per section 151-A of the Representation of People Act (RPA),1956, a by-election should commence or be conducted within 6 months from the occurrence of vacation of a seat or declaration of vacation of a seat or declaration of the election to a seat as void.

How are they conducted?

  • The procedure for conducting a bye-election is similar to that of the General election.
  • The six-month constraint on the Election Commission of India (ECI) to hold a by-election under Section 151-A of the Representation of People Act (RPA), 1956 is also similar to the Constitutional constraint on the Election Commission of India (ECI) to hold the general elections such that a new government can take office within six months of the dissolution of the previous lower House of the Parliament or State Legislature.
  • However, there are certain exceptions to this basic rule set out by Section 151-A of RPA,1956. These exceptions have been mentioned in the case A.P.Ranganatha V. Chief Election Commissioner. These are as follows:
    • When the remaining tenure of the member concerning the vacancy is less than 1 year.
    • When the Election Commission of India (ECI), in consultation with the Central Government certifies that it is difficult to hold bye-elections within that time constraint.

When does a seat become vacant?

  • A seat is deemed to be vacant in either House of Parliament or that of the State Legislature when a sitting member dies.
  • When a sitting member of the Parliament or a State Legislature resigns, the seat is deemed to be vacant. It has been stated in articles 101 and 190 of the Indian Constitution.
  • A seat in the Parliament or a State Legislature is deemed to be vacant when the member concerning that seat is absent for a period of 60 days without the permission of the House.
  • In case of election to multiple seats: –
    • Under Section 68 of RPA,1956, when a member elected to both Houses of Parliament fails to inform or notify regarding intimation of which House, he/she wants to serve, within 10 days from the date on which he/she is chosen, his/her seat in the Council of States is deemed to be vacant.
    • Under Section 69 of RPA,1956, if a person is already a member of one of the Houses of Parliament (has taken seat) and has been elected or chosen to be a member of another House of Parliament, his/her seat in the House where he/she is already a member will be deemed to be vacant from the day he has been chosen or elected to the other house. of Parliament.
    • Under Section 70 of RPA,1956, if a person elected to more than one seat in either House of Parliament or the House or either House of the Legislature of a State, fails to resign all seats except one, all the seats will be deemed to be vacant.
    • Under Article 101(2) of the Indian Constitution, a person’s seat in Parliament will become vacant if the person who is chosen a member of both Parliament and a house of State Legislature has not resigned any of those seats.
    • Similarly, under Article 190(2) of the Indian Constitution, a person’s seats in the Legislatures of all states would become vacant if he/she did not resign all seats except one within the stipulated time.
  • A seat may become vacant on the grounds of defection under the 10th Schedule of the Indian constitution.
  • Vacancy of seats may transpire also due to ineligibilities or disqualifications of the members, as prescribed by law.
  • When an election through which a member was earlier elected to either House of Parliament or either House of State Legislature is declared to be void.

Significance of bye-elections

  • Direct
    • Bye-elections are crucial for a ruling party with a small majority since losing a seat in a bye-elections may make it a minority government.
    • Similarly, bye-elections may help a minority party to gain a seat and earn an official party status or balance of power in a minority or coalition situation.
  • Indirect
    • Bye-elections often have a great psychological impact on the ruling and opposition parties. The party which wins bye-elections often gain a sense of momentum while another party smells a sense of impending defeat in the upcoming general elections.
    • Some even consider the results of bye-elections as people’s opinion about the performance of the ruling party. When a ruling party gains a seat, it is often considered that the ruling party has lived up to its promises while losing a seat symbolizes dissatisfaction and adverse public opinion against the policies of the government.
  • Predictive
    • Some consider the results of bye-elections as early indicators of the results of upcoming general elections. However, political scientists generally caution against overinterpreting by-election results because they may not involve a large sample size.

Way forward

Elections are the fundamental part of any democracy as they keep the very principles of democracy alive and make them function in one or another way. Bye-elections also play this role effectively and thus their significance cannot be negated in any way. Making such elections more transparent and ensuring wider people participation could be the way forward.

Practise Question

Q. How many types of elections are conducted in India and what process is being followed to ensure transparency and accountability? Discuss.

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