GS Paper 2
Syllabus: Appointment to various Constitutional Posts, Powers, Functions and Responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies
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).
- 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.
Q. Critically analyse the role and powers of the Election Commission of India (ECI) in conducting free and fair elections. (250 words)