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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : Securing the EC

Source: Indian Express

 

Prelims: Current events of national importance(ECI, CEC, Article 324, PIL etc)

Mains GS Paper II: Appointments to various constitutional posts, powers functions and responsibilities of various constitutional bodies etc

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • A PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court regarding the autonomy and neutrality of the Election Commission of India (ECI).

 

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

Election Commission of India(ECI):

  • The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering Union and State election processes in India.
  • The body administers elections to:
    • Lok Sabha
    • Rajya Sabha
    • State Legislative Assemblies in India
    • Offices of the President and Vice President in the country.
  • Part XV of the constitution deals with elections, and establishes a commission for these matters.
  • Article 324 to 329: deals with powers, function, tenure, eligibility, etc of the commission and the members.
  • The commission: It consists of one Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
  • The President appoints Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
  • Tenure: They have a fixed tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • Status: They enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India.
  • The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through a process of removal similar to that of a Supreme Court judge by Parliament.
  • All three members have equal voting rights and all decisions in the commission are taken by the majority,

 

Procedure For Removal

  • He/she can be removed either on the ground of “proved misbehavior or incapacity”.
  • Resolution: He/she can be removed by the president on the basis of a resolution passed to that effect by both the Houses of Parliament with special majority(majority of two-third members present and voting supported by more than 50% of the total strength of the house).
  • The Constitution does not use the word ‘impeachment’, for the removal of the Chief Election Commissioner.
  • The Election Commissioner or Regional Commissioner: They can only be removed from office by the Chief Election Commissioner.

 

Article 324:

  • The Superintendence, direction and control of elections to be vested in an Election Commission.

 

Functions of EC:

 

 

Problems associated with appointment:

  • Flawed system of appointment of the Election Commissioners.
    • They are appointed unilaterally by the government.
  • Uncertainty over the elevation of an Election Commissioner to the post of CEC.
    • It makes them vulnerable to government pressure.
  • Government can control an independent-minded CEC through the majority voting power of the two Election Commissioners.

 

B R Ambedkar’s statement about appointment:

  • The tenure can’t be made a fixed and secure tenure if there is no provision in the Constitution to prevent a fool or a naive or a person who is likely to be under the thumb of the executive”.

 

What is the proposed mechanism for appointment of Election Commissioner?

  • A collegium consisting of:
    • Prime Minister
    • Leader of the Opposition (LOP)
    • Chief Justice of India (CJI).
  • This system is already in operation for the appointment of:
    • Central Vigilance Commissioner
    • Chief Information Commissioner
    • Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.
  • 255th Report, the Law Commission of India: It also recommended a collegium system for appointing Election Commissioners.
    • Political stalwarts such as LK Advani and many former CECs supported the idea.
  • Recent debate on electoral reforms in the Rajya Sabha: Many political parties demanded the introduction of a collegium system for appointments of Election Commissioners.

 

Importance of such method of appointment:

  • This will remove the possibility of allegations against the incumbent of being partisan to the government.
  • Opposition parties would not be able to raise a finger, since the LOP would be a party to the selection.

 

Issues with removal of Election Commissioners:

  • Removal: only the CEC is protected from being removed (except through impeachment)

Background:

  • The Constitution enabled protection for the CEC as it was initially a one-man Commission.
  • The other two Commissioners were added in 1993.
  • The oversight will hopefully be corrected by the current Bench.

 

Way Forward

  • Questions raised about the ECI’s credibility are worrying: An ECI with the consent of both the government in power and the Opposition stands a far better chance of convincing the nation and all parties contesting elections of its neutrality and impartiality.
  • The Supreme Court should settle the issue for good as it has many other critical electoral reforms.

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

Q. Discuss the role of the Election Commission of India in the light of the evolution of the Model Code of Conduct.(UPSC 2022) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)