Bill on Right to Recall Legislators

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“BJP MP Varun Gandhi has introduced private member’s Bill on the right
to  recall  legislators. He has proposed an amendment  to  the  election
rules  to  introduce  right  to  recall parliamentarians and  legislators  if
75% of  their voters are dissatisfied with  their  performance. Hereby
analyzing the concept of Right to Recall and provisions mentioned.”

What is Right to Recall?

  • Recall is basically a process whereby the electorate has the power to remove the
    elected officials before the expiry of their usual term.
  • Thus recall confers on the electorate the power to actually ‘de-elect’ their
    representatives from the legislature through a direct vote initiated when a minimum
    number of voters registered in the electoral role sign a petition to recall.
  • It is the least common of the three direct democracy mechanisms used globally.
  • The three direct democracy mechanism are:
    a) Right To Reject All Candidates,
    b) Right To Recall Elected Representatives, and
    c) Referendums on Government Legislations.

Present Status in India

  •  The concept is not alien to India as this system exists in some states like Bihar,
    Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh where people can recall their corporators. In
    2008, three presidents of municipal councils in Chhattisgarh were removed
    through this procedure.
  •  However, the process is difficult to initiate. E.g. in Bihar, two-thirds of the
    registered voters of a constituency have to sign a petition to initiate the process.
    In Chhattisgarh it is three-fourths.

Salient features of the bill:

  •  It gives the public right to recall its representative from the legislature within two
    years of being elected if 75% of them voted their dissatisfaction with his/her
    performance.
  •  The process can be initiated by any voter of the constituency by filing a petition
    before the Speaker. The petition has to be signed by at least one fourth of the
    total number of electors.

Comparative study with other nations:-

  • Right to recall is present in various jurisdictions across the world, for instance, United
    States (US), Canada, Venezuela, Philippines, Switzerland, British Columbia etc

Arguments in favor of Right to Recall

  • At present, voters can only hold their elected representative accountable after
    five years. Right to recall will ensure continuous accountability of the
    representative to the voters during the tenure of the office.
  • If the people have the power to elect their representatives, they should also have
    the power to remove these representatives.
  • It will further deepen the democracy.

Arguments against Right to Recall

  • Firstly, policies take a certain time (ranging from 3 to 5 years) to deliver solutions
    to people. Thus this should not be seen as neglect of one’s duties.
  • Secondly, it may deter our representatives to make unpopular but necessary
    policy decisions which may yield long-term benefits.
  • Not suited for MLA and MPs: The recall can work for corporator’s who have a
    defined role in ensuring delivery of services. But is not suited for MP or an MLA
    as their role is much broader because they are part of a larger body. Thus it is
    difficult to set clear performance targets and hold them accountable.
  • Problem of Anti-defection law:  The anti-defection law mandates that MLAs
    and MPs vote on party lines. Now there could be instances when the party
    mandate is contrary to local interests. If they vote against party line they are on
    risk of being disqualified, if not then they are at risk of being recalled by the
    people of their constituency. Thus it can work best in places where members are
    elected as independents. Otherwise we should revoke the anti-defection law
    (except for the confidence vote) to remove this dilemma.
  • Impractical for India: Given the number of people in an Indian constituency,
    recall is an impractical idea made fashionable by arm chair critics. According to
    Subhash Kashyap, former secretary general of Lok Sabha, a parliamentary
    constituency in India has 20 lakh to 30 lakh voters. If 50 percent of them need to
    petition for a recall through a signature campaign, it would be impractical to
    verify all signatures.
  • Scenario in other countries: In most of the European nations and states of U.S.
    where recall option is available, history shows that hardly a couple of ‘Recalls’
    have succeeded.
  • Political parties can misuse it as political weapon against rival incumbents. For
    example, in 2003, the Democrats in the US had used the Recall against the
    Republicans in the California Recall. Opposition parties can start collection
    signatures to initiate a recall.
  • India is always in election-mode due to the frequency of the assembly or the
    general elections which contributes to policy paralysis. Should we make it more
    complex?
  • In India, the winning candidate generally has just 20-30 percent of the total
    votes. “Does that mean you will keep recalling all elected representatives as it is
    less than 50 per cent.

Way ahead:-

  • To encourage the process of the right to recall, legislative change is needed
    which seeks to introduce recall petitions, for elected representatives in the Lok
    Sabha and in respective Legislative Assemblies. While it is necessary to ensure
    that a recall process is not frivolous and does not became a source of harassment.
  • To elected representatives, the process should have several built-in safeguards
    such as an initial recall petition to kick-start the process and electronic-based
    voting to finally decide its outcome. Furthermore, it should ensure that a
    representative cannot be recalled by a small margin of voters and that the recall
    procedure truly represents the mandate of the people.
  • The right to recall may be workable for the directly elected executive posts like
    corporators, but is difficult to implement in case of MLA and MPs. For ensuring
    their accountability we should strengthen the existing legislative process.
  • And even in the case of directly elected executive posts, we should have the
    following conditions to make the recall system work.
  • Firstly, the person should be judged based on his/her performance to his/her
    constituency and not because of the popularity of political party.
  • Secondly, there should be a minimum grace period to judge the performance.
    Thirdly, we should prevent the causal usage of recall process by making the
    initiating process difficult (by mandating that signatures of two-thirds electors
    are needed to initiate the process.