New Delhi: A group of ministers set up to examine an Election Commission proposal to buy new EVMs has also been mandated to examine the feasibility of holding simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls in a bid to bring down the cost involved in the democratic exercise.
But at the first meeting of the GoM headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, it was felt that the panel of ministers may not be the right forum to make recommendations on simultaneous polls, a senior government functionary said.
The GoM may now first recommend possible ways to reduce the cost of buying new EVMs and then delve into the issue of whether to make recommendations on simultaneous polls, the functionary said.
The GoM constituted recently, met for the first time on April 11. Its other members include Law Minister DV Sadananda Gowda, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Minister of State in PMO Jitendra Singh.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said during a meeting of BJP office-bearers on March 19 that state elections coupled with local-level polls, spread across virtually every year, often "hinder" the execution of welfare measures. He was keen on simultaneous elections once in five years.
The government feels that while one-time cost in holding simultaneous polls would be high, but the exercise may bring down expenditure involved in 'election bandobast' such as deployment of central forces and polling personnel.
In December 2015, a Parliamentary Committee has made a strong pitch for holding of simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha elections all over the country, suggesting that it can be done in the near future.
But most of the political parties which responded to the Standing Committees questionnaire have said the idea is a "noble" one but "difficult to implement".
"The Committee does not feel that simultaneous election in every five year cannot be held in the near future but slowly it would reach in stages for which tenure of some of the state legislative assemblies need to be curtailed or extended," the Standing Committee on Law and Personnel said in its report 'Feasibility of holding simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies'.
While as per electoral law, elections can be held six months prior to the end of the term of a House, the term of the House cannot be extended except during proclamation of Emergency.
The committee has recommended an "alternative and practicable method" of holding simultaneous elections which involves holding of polls in two phases.
The panel has envisaged holding of elections of some assemblies at midterm of Lok Sabha and remaining with the end of tenure of Lok Sabha.
It said the "proposed first phase" could be held in November, 2016. Elections to all state assemblies whose terms end prior to or after a time period of six months to one year from the appointed election date can be clubbed together.
"The terms of some legislative assemblies may need to be extended while some of them may need to be curtailed," it said.
It admitted that gaining consensus of all political parties may be difficult in certain states.
The AIADMK has supported the idea in principle and so has the Asom Gana Parishad. The SAD said it supports the idea but has doubts on certain issues like mandate delivering a hung assembly.
Congress and Trinamool Congress have rejected the idea saying "ideal as it may sound" it is "impractical and unworkable".
The NCP too said that the proposal is "not feasible". The CPI said the "proposal looks ideal" but there are practical problems such as need for mid-term polls.
The Law Commission in one of its reports presented the government in 1999 had also supported the idea of simultaneous polls.
The Election Commission had in 2015 approached the government to buy nearly 14 lakh new electronic voting machines.
In its January 18 meeting, the Expenditure Finance Committee headed by Secretary Expenditure in the Finance Ministry, gave in-principle approval for the purchase of 13,95,648 new balloting units and 9,30,432 control units at an estimated cost of Rs 5,511.48 crore between financial years 2015-16 and 2018-19.
Sources in the government said an estimated Rs 1,872 crore would be required in 2016-17 for the new EVMs, but final figures will be available when the EC issues tender.
The Election Commission wants to purchase new machines against the backdrop of over nine lakh such machines currently in use nearing end of their 15-year life.
The two government undertakings - Bharat Electronics Ltd, Bengaluru and Electronic Corporation of India Ltd, Hyderabad will not be in a position to produce new EVMs in one go and would provide it to the Commission in batches.
The machines EC gets in batches can be used in coming assembly polls and by the time the next Lok Sabha polls are due the delivery will be completed.
In a proposal sent to the Law Ministry, the Commission had said that 9,30,430 EVMs in use today would become "outdated" between 2015-16 and 2019-20.