By Sankalp Dasmohapatra
On the 19th of August, the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) held its third and final open meeting with the agenda of discussing the final annexures to the new Constitution - specifically detailing the functioning of the new ‘Bridge Student Government (SG)’, amendments to the Election Code, and minor changes to the Email Policy. This meeting was attended by 7 students out of which 3 were members of the CDC.
The Bridge Student Government
The Bridge House will have 8 elected representatives with a term of 6 months from September until the General Elections in February. The CDC formulated the Bridge SG with the intention of preventing disruption to the work of the House whilst allowing for an eased implementation and modification to the new Constitution under a fully offline student politics set-up.
CDC member Yasashvi Paarakh was clear in detailing that the Bridge House was not the same as an Interim House and that apart from the reduced number of representatives, its functioning would be no different than that of a fully functioning House.
With all ministries (barring 3) currently following a Point of Contact system, and many of these appointments decided during the summer, it was originally the intention of the committee that these members be confirmed as ministers to prevent disruption to Cabinet work. However the committee later felt that imposing such a clause would restrict the newly elected Bridge House’s involvement in the decision and are debating keeping this recommendation.
In addition to this, Cabinet mandates have been updated (with the exception of Sports and Campus Life) to better reflect the specific admin bodies that ministries are in contact with, while also providing a few expansions in the duties that ministries had unofficially undertaken during their work.
While the CDC had intended for the Bridge SG to continue with the budget for the 7th House, given that said budget was largely unused, the OSA has informed them that the budget had expired in February at the conclusion of the 7th House’s term. The budget policy for the Bridge House will feature each expense being submitted to the OSA on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the Finance Control Document.
The highlight of this new mandate features the binding Directive Principles, which details issues that the Bridge House is mandated to take up during their term. These principles are centred around the inclusion of all cohorts in Ashoka into the Student Government by the 2023 General Elections taking place in February. This includes ensuring adequate representation from each cohort in consultation with their representatives and potentially changing the electoral system.
Changes in the Election Code
The modified election code now features clear procedural outlines on the initiation of a referendum, ballot measure and crucially a Right to Recall proceeding. The Right to Recall motion clearly defines the minimum voting population required for it to be considered, the process of consideration as well as the announcement of the final verdict. There is now also a gap period in between petitions to prevent multiple subsequent petitions from overwhelming the Election Commission and Student Government.
Additionally the new Election Code increases the period for NOTA considerations as well as any run-off elections to prevent a dissolution of the House or a severe impediment to the functioning of the Student Government. There now exist provisions for the exact appointment of members of the EC including a Head of Social Media and Head of Technology. However, these members will not form part of the collegium of the EC.
A crucial addition to this Election Code has been the process detailing the impeachment proceedings of the Chief Election Officer. The document outlines submission of proof, testimonies from members of the SG and EC and two different voting thresholds dependent on both the House as well as the EC. The committee mentioned that the different thresholds as well as the high voting requirements are to ensure that conflicts of interest are avoided as best as possible.
The email policy remains largely the same with the exception of the addition of a clause to bypass the email policy should the need arise. The committee explained that there are often circumstances wherein sending an email, particularly those of immediate urgency are halted by the bureaucratic measures detailed within the email policy and thus this addition would prevent such situations from arising.
The policy also allows for the Prime Minister, in addition to the President and Leader of Opposition, to have access to the primary Student Government account to ensure maximum transparency between the Cabinet and House.
Interim House Member Rhea pointed out that emails sent to the SG often contain sensitive information and thus access should be limited to as few people as possible to ensure privacy. Moreover, she added that the Prime Minister’s role exists to hold the Ministries accountable and thus receives no additional benefit from access given that each Ministry has its own email address.
The meeting concluded with the CDC announcing that it would shortly have a meeting with the OSA, Pro-VC and VC to discuss the new Constitution and its subsequent ratification with the Board of Management.
The committee will release the final, compiled list of documents and annexures before beginning the referendum by mid-next week and the voting period will conclude on the 3rd of September. The draft documents are currently open for student comments, suggestions, and feedback.