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SC calls out centre over short tenures of CEC

GS Paper 2

Syllabus: Appointment to various Constitutional Posts, Powers, Functions and Responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies

 

Source: TH

 Direction: The article highlights the SC’s views on the deficiencies in India’s Election Commissioners appointment procedure, as well as solutions to address these shortcomings.

 

Context: According to the Supreme Court, the government does not give much importance to Election Commissioners’ independence, as evidenced by the reduction in tenures of Chief Election Commissioners (CECs) from over 8 years (in the 1950s) to just a few 100 days (after 2004).

 

Background:

  • Presently, Election Commissioners are appointed by the President of India, on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers
  • The Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991, prescribes that the term of a CEC and Election Commissioner is 6 years or till the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • Article 324 of the Indian Constitution, dealing with the appointment of Election Commissioners, called for the enactment of legislation to oversee such appointments, but the government had yet to do so.
  • The SC was hearing petitions seeking reforms in the system of appointing Election Commissioners.

  

What has the SC said about the Election Commissioners?

  • The Constitution of India has vested vast powers on the shoulders of the CEC and the 2 Election Commissioners.
  • Apart from competence, the character is crucial, so that those appointed as Election Commissioners will not allow themselves to be bulldozed.
  • In the absence of a law to oversee such appointments, the silence of the Indian Constitution is being exploited by all.
  • The government assures that the person nominated does not serve the full six years by picking someone close to 65, thus undermining independence.

 

The government’s reply:

  • There is no vacuum in the Constitution on the issue.
  • If the Constitution takes a position despite multiple ideas put forward by the original Constituent Assembly, that position cannot be contested.
  • The separation of powers cannot be challenged, as it is the basic feature of the Constitution.
  • This matter is for Parliament to debate and not the court.

 

Suggestions given by the SC: An appointment committee including the Chief Justice of India to appoint the Election Commissioners to ensure neutrality.

 

Conclusion: A CEC of the calibre of TN Sheshan is required to ensure free and fair elections and to strengthen democracy in India. Though such personalities appear occasionally, appointments without any bias can provide close to one.

 

About the Election Commission of India (ECI):

●        It is a permanent constitutional body established in 1950 to conduct and regulate elections in the country.

●        Part XV (Article 324-329) of the Indian Constitution: It deals with elections and establishes a commission for these matters.

●        Article 324 of the Constitution provides that the power of superintendence, direction and control of elections to Parliament, state legislatures, the office of the President of India, and the office of Vice-President of India shall be vested in the election commission.

●        Thus, the Election Commission is an all-India body in the sense that it is common to both the Central government and the state governments.

●        Being a constitutional authority, Election Commission is amongst the few institutions which function with both autonomy and freedom, along with the country’s higher judiciary, UPSC and CAG.

●        It is a multi-member body (1 CEC + 2 ECs) and the tenure of election commissioners is not prescribed by the Indian Constitution.

●        The CEC of India can be removed from their office in a manner similar to the removal of a judge of the SC of India, while other ECs can be removed by the President of India on the recommendation of the CEC.

●        A CEC has never been impeached in India.

 

Insta Links:

Appointment of Election Commissioners

 

Mains Links:

Q. Critically analyse the role and powers of the Election Commission of India (ECI) in conducting free and fair elections. (250 words)

 

Prelims Links:

Q. Consider the following statements about the Election Commission of India:

  1. Since its inception, the Election Commission has been a multi-member body consisting of three election commissioners.
  2. An election commissioner or a regional commissioner cannot be removed from office except on the recommendation of the chief election commissioner.
  3. They determine the territorial areas of the electoral constituencies throughout the country.

 

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

  1. a) 1, 2 only
  2. b) 3 only
  3. c) 2, 3 only
  4. d) 1, 2 only

 

Solution: c)

From its inception in 1950 and till 15 October 1989, the election commission functioned as a single-member body consisting of the Chief Election Commissioner. On 16 October 1989, the president appointed two more election commissioners to cope with the increased work of the election commission on account of lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 years. Thereafter, the Election Commission functioned as a multi-member body consisting of three election commissioners.

Any other election commissioner or a regional commissioner cannot be removed from office except on the recommendation of the chief election commissioner.

EC determines the territorial areas of the electoral constituencies throughout the country on the basis of the Delimitation Commission Act of Parliament.