Parliamentary law panel recommends reducing minimum of contesting elections to 18 years

This proposal has been made to “enable greater youth participation in decision-making process” according to the Law and Justice Parliamentary Panel

People are queuing at a polling station to cast their votes in West Bengal's 'Panchayat' or local elections (Photo: Getty Images)
People are queuing at a polling station to cast their votes in West Bengal's 'Panchayat' or local elections (Photo: Getty Images)

Ashlin Mathew

The Parliamentary panel on Law and Justice has proposed reducing minimum age of contesting national and assembly elections to 18 years from 25 years to “enable greater youth participation in decision-making process”.

The minimum age for contesting Lok Sabha and Assembly elections is 25, while for voting is 18. However, Election Commission has opposed it stating that it is unrealistic to expect 18-year-olds to possess the necessary experience and maturity for these responsibilities.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice noted in the report that they examined practices of various countries including that of Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. It noted that young individuals in these countries demonstrated that they can be reliable and responsible political participants. This committee is chaired by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Kumar Modi.

The Committee also observes that surveys indicate that youth globally have significant political awareness and knowledge. This is evident through youth-led movements such as ‘Fridays for Future’ and ‘March for Our Lives’, highlighting their capacity to rally and champion critical social and political concerns.

Article 84 of the Constitution of India outlines the qualifications for Members of Parliament, requiring a person to be at least 30 years old to hold a seat in the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) and at least 25 years old to hold a seat in the House of the People.

The Election Commission has stated that unless there are compelling reasons exist to alter a provision of the Constitution, it should remain unchanged. The Commission believes that this principle falls under the age requirement for eligibility to join Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, Legislative Assemblies, and Legislative Councils. The Commission does not favour reducing the age requirement for membership of Parliament and State Legislatures and still maintains this view.

The Election Commission sharply noted that it has already considered the issue of aligning the minimum age for voting and contesting elections to Parliament, state legislature, and local bodies and has found that it is unrealistic to expect 18-year-olds to possess the necessary experience and maturity for these responsibilities.

The Committee raised the concern that there is a lack of representation of India's youth population in the political arena, despite a growing number of young voters. According to a report by PRS Legislative Research in 2019, 47 per cent of Lok Sabha MPs are over the age of 55. This trend is particularly disconcerting, given that India's median age is only 27.9 years. Only 2.2 per cent of Lok Sabha MPs are under the age of 30. In the 17th Lok Sabha, there are currently 34 Sitting Members of Parliament between the ages of 30 and 40.

According to the Committee, most European countries stipulate that candidates for national general elections must be at least 18 years old. However, some countries, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Poland, and Slovakia, have higher age requirements, mandating that candidates be at least 21 years old. In Romania, it is 23; while in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Lithuania, candidates must be 25 years old.

Common Electoral Roll

The Parliamentary panel had also discussed the issue Common Electoral Roll, which according to the Election Commission would enhance efficiency and minimise administrative expenses. The EC suggested that creating a Common Electoral Roll could benefit both ECI and State Election Commissions.

However, the Committee recommended that the ECI should develop a comprehensive plan that considers all the factors involved in implementing a Common Electoral Roll before making any changes to the current regulations.

This is because, the Committee pointed out, there are two issues in implementing Common Electoral Roll — the current legal framework and Constitutional regulations that guide the creation of electoral rolls by the ECI, and the process for conducting local body polls.

The Committee raised concerns about the potential impact on state powers, mentioned under Chapter IX and IX A of the Constitution of India. The Committee therefore suggested that the ECI, before taking up the responsibility of preparing the Common Electoral Roll, should give due consideration to the constitutional provisions and powers of the States. The ECI may also keep in mind the principles of federalism enshrined under the constitution and the powers reserved for the State Election Commissions under List II Entry 5.

The Committee observed that implementing a Common Electoral Roll, as proposed by the Central Government and ECI, is presently outside the scope of Article 325 of the Constitution. This article stipulates that separate electoral rolls must be used for elections to Parliament and the State Legislatures.

To ensure that all actions are in line with the Constitution, the Committee suggests consensus shall be made in line with Article 325. The Committee advises the government to proceed with caution, adhere to the principles of federalism enshrined in the Constitution, and carefully assess the potential consequences before taking any action.

According to Article 243D (1) and (6) and Article 243T (1) and (6) of the Constitution, it is the responsibility of the individual state governments to reserve seats for the scheduled classes and scheduled tribes (SCs/STs) in the municipality and panchayat elections. A few members questioned about the power that would be conferred to the Election Commission for preparing the Common Electoral Roll.

The Committee suggested that the Election Commission should be careful and avoid overstepping its boundaries into the state's domain. Instead, the Commission should aim to propose a solution that benefits all the parties involved.

Currently, the ECI holds the responsibility for conducting elections to the highest offices of the country, such as the President and Vice-President, as well as for Parliament, state assemblies, and legislative councils. However, when it comes to Municipal and Panchayat Elections, the supervision and conduct of these polls are entrusted to the State Election Commissions (SECs). The SECs are responsible for overseeing the electoral processes of municipalities and panchayats within their respective states.

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