Right To Recall; Need Of Democracy

Article for Blog Post Writing Competition 2011 | by Punit Kumar Prahalad and Varun Prabhakar

April 22nd, 20117:30 pm

Introduction and Meaning:-

According to General Clause Act, 1897, power to make the appointment shall also have power to suspend or dismiss any person appointed.[1] Dictionary meaning of the Recall is the right or procedure by which a public official may be removed from a position by a vote of the people prior to the end of the term of office. Recall is the retiring of an elected officer by a vote of the electorate. Some state constitutions prescribe the procedure that must be followed in a recall—for example, requiring the filing of a petition containing the signatures of a specific number of qualified voters.­­The right or procedure by which a public official, commonly a legislative or executive official, may be removed from office, before the end of his term of office, by a vote of the people to be taken on the filing of a petition signed by a required number or percentage of qualified voters.[2]

Specifically and in simple terminology it is a kind of mechanism designed to enable voter not satisfied with an elected representative to remove him/her before completion of fixed period of office initiated when sufficient voters sign a petition. Through an electoral procedure, this power of removal, constitutionally, is either granted to or reserved by the people, depending on the theory of government and sovereignty in the country in question.

Brief History:-

Recall has a history dating back to the ancient Athenian democracy[3] and is a feature of several contemporary constitutions.The concept of recall originated in Switzerland but became operative in several American States. The recall device began in the United States in a municipality in Los Angeles in 1903. Michigan and Oregon, in 1908, were the first the States to adopt recall procedures for state officials

Status In India:-

In India it was the late Jayaprakash Narayan who had first given a call for the right to recall the elected representatives on November 4, 1974 during his Sampoorna Kranti (Total Revolution) movement against the Congress government headed by Indira Gandhi at the Centre[4] followed by the Janata Government in 1977 and again during the National Front Government in 1989. The right to recall the elected representative has remained notional. The process of formulation any legislation on the subject has been derailed by the political parties. It is well established fact that political leaders are reluctant to enact any legislation which depicts that they are hesitant to maturing into participatory democracy.

In State of Madhya Pradesh & Ors. v. Shri Ram Singh Hon’ble  Supreme Court  observed that, “Corruption in a civilized society is like cancer, which if not detected in time is sure to malignise the polity of the country leading to disastrous consequences. It is termed as a plague which is not only contagious but if not controlled spreads like a fire in a jungle. Its virus is compared with HIV leading to AIDS, being incurable. It has also been termed as royal thievery. The socio-political system exposed to such a dreaded communicable disease is likely to crumble under its own weight. Corruption is opposed to democracy and social order, being not only anti-people, but also aimed and targeted at them. It affects the economy and destroys the cultural heritage. Unless nipped in the bud at the earliest, it is likely to cause turbulence shaking of the socio-economic political system in an otherwise healthy, wealthy, effective and vibrating society”[5]

There are several examples, Mr. Madhu Koda, the former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, is alleged to have looted Rs 4,000 crore[6] from the state followed by The Reddy brothers, YSR’s family[7], which are just the latest additions. It has been observed that all of them get away with the loot, and continue to be in positions of influence. There is not a single politician who has been put behind bars for corruption.

It is in the interest of the nation to remove those incompetent, inefficient and dishonest legislators, who once elected by hook or by crook, continue to bleed the state exchequer for the fixed term.  Current conditions in India where even the peasantry is articulating need for new mechanisms for empowerment demands to have laws enshrining the right to recall must be viewed as important ingredients of the fight for renewal of the polity.

Steps towards Right to Recall:-

The Nitish Kumar Government has decided to empower the voters of the urban civic body polls to call back their elected representatives if they are not satisfied with their performance.

The state cabinet has agreed to the ‘right to recall’ proposal in this regard by giving its nod to the amendment to the Bihar Municipal Act.

It will enable the government to remove the elected representatives of the municipal corporations – Nagar Parishad and Nagar Panchayat -if two-thirds of the voters of their constituencies submit a signed petition to the urban development department against them. The department will look into the merit of the petition and take steps for the ouster of the councillors if it is convinced that they have lost the confidence of two-thirds of the voters.

Earlier, the Act had a provision for the removal of a councillor only if two-thirds of fellow councillors filed a written petition against him. But now, the government has vested the power directly with the voters.

There is already a provision under the Panchayati Raj system in the state for the recall of elected mukhiyas (village headmen). It will now be applicable to the elected representatives of the urban civic bodies as well.[8]


  • Recall is a process which enables voters dissatisfied with an elected official to replace him before the expiry of his term of office, which will make them more accountable to the people.
  • The ‘recall’ device has also the potential to encourage the citizens to keep themselves side by side of contemporary public issues in order to monitor the conduct of their elected representatives.
  • It provides a way for citizens to retain control over elected officials who are not representing the best interests of their constituents, or who are unresponsive or incompetent.
  • This mechanism holds that an elected representative is an agent, a servant and not a master in a democratic state.


  • How will the government determine whether the petition submitted to it for the recall of the elected representatives carry the signatures of the genuine voters?
  • How will it be ensured that the signatures of such a large number of people have not been forged?
  • It can lead to an excess of democracy, where the threat of a recall election lessens the independence of elected officials.
  • It undermines the principle of electing good officials and giving them a chance to govern until the next election, and that it can lead to abuses by well-financed special interest groups.
  • It will only compound an already problem-ridden system.
  • Country like India is not in a position to hold election so frequently.  Conclusion:-

Concluding in the words of The Former Lok Sabha Speaker Mr.Somnath Chatterjee at Thiruvanthapuram where he recommended the introduction of right to call of elected representatives in India. He said “It is time for us to look for devices such as ‘recall’ to ensure accountability of the members of democratic institutions at all levels, before the common man gets totally disillusioned with the prevailing system. The performance and the functioning of the parliament as well as its members would improve if people who elected their representatives to voice their grievances watched the parliamentary proceedings regularly. But, it is not such an easy thing to be resolved in our parliamentary democracy as all the political parties have to arrive at a consensus, which may be a difficult task.”[9]

India, the largest democracy isn’t the most effective one. The irony and the clumsiness of the electoral process in India is that it has not been able to keep out criminal, anti-social and undesirable elements from participating in and even dominating the political scene and polluting the electoral and parliamentary processes. It can be corrected only by putting voters in control and ‘Right to recall’, is an excellent accountability tool. At present, provision for recall is necessary in democracy because elected representative at all levels give the impression that they have protection from all laws of the country and majority of them acts only for profit earning not for the welfare of the state.

[1] Section 16 of The General Clause Act, 1897

[2] http://www.brainyquote.com/words/re/recall210599.html#ixzz1KAT4VBF9;  (Last visited on 21st April 2011)

[3] Aristotle, Constitution of Athens 43.4

[4] http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/story/urban-civic-polls-bihar-gets-right-to-recall-elected-representatives/1; (Last visited on 21st April 2011)

[5] State of Madhya Pradesh & Ors. v. Shri Ram Singh; AIR 2000, SC 870

[6] http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?264318; (last visited on 21st April 2011)

[7] http://www.zeenews.com/news640532.html; (last Visited on 21st April 2011)

[8] http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/story/urban-civic-polls-bihar-gets-right-to-recall-elected-representatives; (last visited on 21st April 2011)

[9] 5 June 2008 Indian Express New Delhi


Article by-

Punit Kumar Prahalad and Varun Prabhakar

Final year Students, New Law College

Bharati Vidyapeeth University, Pune.

[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]


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