Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Centre’s Bill on Election Commission Appointments

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Constitutional Bodies: Election Commission

 

Source: IE, IE

 

Context: A Bill (Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointments, Conditions of Service, Term of Office) Bill) has been proposed by the Centre in the Rajya Sabha to amend the process of appointing Chief Election Commissioners (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs) in order to address the impact of a Supreme Court verdict.

 

Background: 

In March this year, the Supreme Court ruled that a committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, and Chief Justice of India must appoint CEC and ECs until a relevant law is enacted by Parliament. The court noted that the Constitution lacked provisions for the appointments. The judgment brought the appointment process on par with that of the CBI Director.

The new Bill’s Aim: The proposed Bill seeks to replace the Chief Justice of India with a nominated Cabinet Minister in the committee for appointments.

 

Major features of the new bill:

FeatureDescription
Committee Composition:The bill proposes a committee for selecting members of the Election Commission of India (ECI). The committee comprises the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and a Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister.
Search Committee:A Search Committee will be established, led by the Cabinet Secretary. The Search Committee will consist of two other members not below the rank of Secretary to the government, knowledgeable in matters related to elections. This committee will prepare a panel of five individuals eligible for appointment.
Qualifications for Appointment:The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other Election Commissioners (ECs) must be individuals of integrity. They should have held or currently hold a post equivalent to the rank of secretary. Candidates should possess knowledge and experience in the management and conduct of elections.

 

Earlier, there was no rule prescribing the qualifications for appointment to the posts

Appointments Process:The Selection Committee, consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and the nominated Cabinet Minister, will appoint the CEC and ECs from the prepared panel.
Impeachment Process:The bill introduces a provision for the removal of Election Commissioners through an impeachment-like process, similar to the removal process for Supreme Court judges.
Protection of Election Commissioners:The bill aims to protect Election Commissioners from arbitrary removal by aligning their removal process with that of Supreme Court judges.
Addressing Constitutional Validity:The bill aims to address the concerns raised in the 2015 public interest litigation challenging the constitutional validity of Centre-appointed members of the Election Commission.
Enhancing Transparency:The introduction of a Search Committee and a panel of eligible candidates aims to enhance transparency and accountability in the selection process.

 

Debate: The Bill’s composition has raised concerns about independence, as the Prime Minister and a nominated Cabinet Minister could potentially outvote the Leader of the Opposition, raising questions about impartiality in the selection process.

 

Issues with the proposed bill:

IssueExplanation
Composition of Selection CommitteeThe committee consists of the Prime Minister, the nominated Cabinet Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition. This potentially gives the Executive dominance in appointments, undermining the independence of the Election Commission.
Lack of Chief Justice’s InvolvementThe Bill replaces the Chief Justice of India with a nominated Cabinet Minister in the appointment process. This reduces judicial representation in the committee and might affect impartiality.
Search CommitteeWhile the inclusion of a Search Committee is positive, its effectiveness in selecting suitable candidates and avoiding bias needs to be evaluated.
Decision Beyond ShortlistThe Bill allows the Selection Committee to choose anyone from outside the shortlisted candidates, undermining the purpose of the shortlisting process.
Downgrading of Election Commissioners’ RankThe rank of Election Commissioner is being reduced in the warrant of precedence. This could impact their stature

 

Conclusion:

To ensure the utmost transparency, credibility, and impartiality of the Election Commission, it’s advisable for the government to consider broader consultations and maintain a balance between various stakeholders, thereby reinforcing the institution’s role as a bastion of democratic integrity.

One important suggestion by former Chief Election Commissioner of India S Y Quraishi to improve the bill is to have a unanimous verdict as a precondition to the appointment process.

 

Existing Provisions for Appointment to ECI
Constitutional Provisions: Part XV (Article 324-329) of the Indian Constitution: Deals with elections and establishes a commission for these matters.
Structure of ECI: According to Article 324, the Election Commission shall consist of the CEC and such number of other election commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix.
Appointment Procedure: Article 324(2): The appointment of the CEC and other Election Commissioners shall be made by the President, subject to the provisions of any law made on that behalf by Parliament
Suggestions: The Law Minister suggests a pool of suitable candidates to the Prime Minister for consideration. The President makes the appointment on the advice of the PM.
Service Conditions: The President determines the conditions of service and tenure of office of the Election.
They have a tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
Removal: They can resign anytime or can also be removed before the expiry of their term. The CEC can be removed from office only through a process of removal similar to that of a SC judge by Parliament. Any other EC cannot be removed except on the recommendation of the CEC.

 

Insta Links:

 How are the CEC and ECs appointed?

 

Prelims Links:

Q.1 Consider the following statements: ( UPSC 2017)

  1. The Election Commission of India is a five-member body.
  2. Union Ministry of Home Affairs decides the election schedule for the conduct of both general elections and bye-elections.
  3. Election Commission resolves the disputes relating to splits/mergers of recognised political parties.

 

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 2 only
(c) 2 and 3 only
(d) 3 only

 

Ans: D

 

Mains Links:

Q.1 In light of the recent controversy regarding the use of Electronic Voting Machines(EVM), what are the challenges before the Election Commission of India to ensure the trustworthiness of elections in India? (UPSC 2018)

 

Q.2 To enhance the quality of democracy in India the Election Commission of India has proposed electoral reforms in 2016. What are the suggested reforms and how far are they significant to make democracy successful? (UPSC 2017)