Municipal bodies have a long history in India. The first such Municipal Corporation was set-up in the former Presidency Town of Madras in 1688; and was followed by similar corporations in the then Bombay and Calcutta in 1726. The Constitution of India has made detailed provisions for ensuring protection of democracy in Parliament and in the state legislatures. However, Constitution did not make the local self-government in urban areas a clear-cut constitutional obligation. While the Directive Principles of State Policy refer to village Panchayats, there is no specific reference to Municipalities except the implicitly in Entry 5 of the State List, which places the subject of local self-governments as a responsibility of the states.
In order to provide for a common framework for urban local bodies and help to strengthen the functioning of the bodies as effective democratic units of self-government, Parliament enacted the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992 relating to municipalities in 1992. The Act received the assent of the President on 20 April 1993. The Government of India notified 1 June 1993 as the date from which the said Act came into force. A new part IX-A relating to the Municipalities has been incorporated in the Constitution to provide for among other things, constitution of three types of Municipalities, i.e., Nagar Panchayats for areas in transition from a rural area to urban area, Municipal Councils for smaller urban areas and Municipal Corporation for large urban areas, fixed duration of municipalities, appointment of state election commission, appointment of state finance commission and constitution of metropolitan and district planning committees. State/UTs have set-up their election Commissions. Elections to municipal bodies have been completed in all States/UTs except Jharkhand and Puducherry.
Article 40 of the Constitution, which enshrines one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, lays down that the State shall take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and, authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.
In the light of the above, a new Part IX relating to the Panchayats has been inserted in the Constitution to provide for among other things, Gram Sabha in a village or group of villages; constitution of Panchayats at village and other level or levels; direct elections to all seats in Panchayats at the village and intermediate level, if any, and to the offices of Chairpersons of Panchayats at such levels; reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population for membership of Panchayats and office of Chairpersons in Panchayats at each level; reservation of not less than one-third of the seats for women; fixing tenure of five years for Panchayats and holding elections within a period of six months in the event of super session of any Panchayat.
The superintendence, direction and control of preparation of electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, elections to Parliament and State Legislatures and elections to the offices of the President and the Vice-President of India are vested in the Election Commission of India. It is an independent constitutional authority. Since its inception in 1950 and till October 1989, the Commission functioned as a single member body consisting of the Chief Election Commissioner. On 16 October 1989, the President appointed two more Election Commissioners on the eve of the General Election to the House of the People held in November- December 1989. However, the said two Commissioners ceased to hold office on 1 January 1990 when those two posts of Election Commissioners were abolished. Again on 1 October 1993, the President appointed two more Election Commissioners. Simultaneously, the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Conditions of Service) Act, 1991 was amended to provide that the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners will enjoy equal powers and will receive equal salary, allowances and other perquisites as payable to a judge of the Supreme Court of India. The Act further provided that in case of difference of opinion amongst the Chief Election Commissioner and/or two other Election Commissioners, the matter will be decided by the Commission by majority. The validity of that Act (renamed in 1993 as the Election Commission) (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991 was challenged before the Supreme Court. The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court consisting of five judges, however, dismissed the petitions and upheld the provisions of the above law by a unanimous judgment on 14 July 1995.
Independence of the Election Commission and its insulation from executive interference is ensured by a specific provision under Article 324(5) of the Constitution that the Chief Election Commissioner shall not be removed from his office except in like manner and on like grounds as a Judge of the Supreme Court and conditions of his service shall not be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment. The other Election Commissioners cannot be removed from office except on recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner. The term of office of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners is six years from the date he/she assumes office or till the day he/she attains the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
The Parliament on 22 March 2003 enacted the Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 2003 and Conduct of Elections (Amendment) Rules, 2003 which came into force with effect from 22 September 2003. By these amendments in the Act and Rules, those service voters belonging to the Armed Forces and members belonging to a Force to which provisions of the Army Act applies, have been provided the facility to opt to vote through proxy. Such service voter who opt to vote through proxy have to appoint a proxy in a prescribed format and intimate the Returning Officer of the constituency.
The Election and Other Related Laws (Amendment) Act, 2003 (46 of 2003) was enacted in 11 September 2003. By this amendment, new Section 29B and 29C were inserted in the Principal Act providing for contribution by any person or company other than a Government company to political parties, subject to the condition that any contribution in excess of Rs.20,000 shall be reported to the Election Commission for any claim for Tax relief under the Income Tax Act, 1961. The Act also inserted Part A (Section 78A and 78B) regarding supply of copies of electoral rolls and certain other items to candidates of recognised political parties. This Act also amended Section 77(1) regarding maintenance of election expenses by candidates whereby expenditure incurred by specified number of 'leaders' of a political party on account of travel by air or by any other means of transport for propagating programme of the political party alone shall be exempted from being included in the account of election expenses incurred by the candidate in connection with the election.
The Parliament on 1 January 2004 enacted the Delimitation (Amendment) Act, 2003 whereby Section 4 of the Principal Act was amended to provide that the Delimitation will be held on the basis of the 2001 Census figures.
The Parliament on 28 August 2003 enacted the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2003 whereby open ballot system was introduced at elections to the Council of States. In this system an elector who belongs to a political party is required to show the ballot paper after marking his vote to an authorised agent of that political party. The requirement that a candidate contesting an election to the Council of States from a particular State should be an elector in that particular State was also dispensed with.
In C.W.P. No. 4912 of 1998 (Kushra Bharat Vs. Union of India and Others), the Delhi High Court directed that information relating to government dues owed by candidates to the departments dealing with Government accommodation, electricity, water, telephone and transport (including aircrafts and helicopters) and any other dues should be furnished by the candidates and this information should be published by the election authorities under the Commission in at least two newspapers having local circulation, for information of electors. Accordingly, the Commission modified items 3(a)(iii) of the format of the affidavit prescribed vide its order dated 27 March 2003 relating to right to information of electors regarding the background of candidates and also issued necessary directions to the District Election Officers regarding publication of the information furnished by the candidates in the newspapers as directed by the Delhi High Court.