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Election Commissioner Selection: Ensuring Independence

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Constitutional Bodies

 

Source: Th

 Context: The recent swift appointment of two new Election Commissioners  (after the resignation of resignation of Arun Goel) in India has sparked criticism due to concerns about the independence of the ECI and its selection process.

  

About ECI:

AspectInformation
Election Commission of IndiaThe Election Commission of India (ECI) is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering Union and State election processes in India. Established on January 25, 1950, in New Delhi.
Constitutional ProvisionsPart XV of the Constitution (Articles 324-329) deals with elections and establishes the commission. Articles 324-329 outline its powers, including superintendence, direction, and control of elections.
FunctionsArticle 324 of the Constitution grants the Election Commission the authority over elections. It also says that the EC shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may fix from time to time.
The Election Commission administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and State Legislative Assemblies in India, and the offices of the President and Vice President in the country.
Structure of ECIOriginally single-membered, now multi-membered. Consists of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and two Election Commissioners (ECs).
Present Chief Election Commissioner: Rajiv Kumar
QualificationNo specific qualifications are mandated by the Constitution for Election Commissioners. Typically, senior civil servants, like Cabinet Secretaries, are appointed. This tradition ensures leaders with extensive administrative expertise and electoral process understanding lead the ECI.
Appointment & TenureAppointed by the President under the CEC and Other ECs (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023. Serve a fixed six-year term or until age 65
RemovalCan resign or be removed before term expiry. CEC’s removal requires Parliament’s process akin to a Supreme Court judge. ECs can only be removed upon CEC’s recommendation.

 

For the major feature of the Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023: Click Here

 

For Issues with the New Act: Click Here

  

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has achieved significant milestones: 

  1. Conducting Free and Fair Elections: ECI ensures fair elections, overseeing over 17 national and over 370 state elections since 1947.
  2. Inclusive Participation Initiatives: E.g., ECI implemented reserved constituencies for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
  3. Introduction of Voter ID Cards: The ECI introduced the Elector’s Photo Identity Card (EPIC) in 1993, enhancing electoral integrity and reducing impersonation.
  4. Adoption of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and VVPAT: EVMs streamline voting, ensuring accuracy and reducing fraud.
  5. Implementation of Model Code of Conduct (MCC): ECI enforces MCC, promoting fair campaigning and ethical practices.
  6. Innovative Use of Technology:g., ECI developed the cVIGIL mobile application, allowing citizens to report election code violations directly,
  7. Voter Education Programs:g., SVEEP (Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation), to raise awareness about voting rights, the importance of participation, and making informed choices during elections

  

Issues Associated with the Election Commission of India:

  1. Constitutional Limitations: No prescribed qualifications or terms for members.
  2. Post-retirement favours: No prohibition on post-retirement appointments.
  3. Selection Committee Dominance: The selection committee is dominated by government members in the new act.Potential compromise of ECI independence.
  4. Security of Tenure: Election Commissioners lack guaranteed tenure.
  5. Lack of Financial Independence: Reliance on Union Government for finances. Expenses not drawn from Consolidated Fund, limiting independence.
  6. Electoral Malpractices: Irregularities in voter rolls and instances of fraud. A recent issue of electoral bond.
  7. Political Bias Allegations: Allegations of bias and favoritism.
  8. Lack of Deregistration Authority: ECI lacks the power to deregister parties for violations. Unable to enforce inner-party democracy or regulate finances.
  9. Accessibility and Inclusivity: Challenges in ensuring universal voter access.

  

Way forward:

To strengthen the Election Commission of India, several key steps are essential. Firstly, establishing an independent selection committee comprising diverse stakeholders, as highlighted in the Anoop Baranwal vs Union of India Case, 2023, is crucial for ensuring fair appointments. Secondly, enacting legislation with statutory safeguards is necessary to define conditions for the removal of Election Commissioners, incorporating stringent criteria and procedural safeguards to prevent arbitrary dismissals. Transparent funding mechanisms, implemented through parliamentary processes or independent oversight, would enhance accountability and impartiality in fund allocation. Empowering the ECI to impose proportional punishments on guilty parties, from fines to deregistration, would ensure accountability and deterrence against electoral violations.

Additionally, promoting inclusive participation by addressing voter suppression, and discrimination, and ensuring accessibility for all voters, including those with disabilities, is essential. Finally, fostering international collaboration with electoral management bodies can facilitate knowledge exchange and adoption of best practices, enhancing the ECI’s credibility and effectiveness globally.

  

Conclusion:

India’s electoral system is globally acclaimed, with independent-minded election commissioners. However, establishing robust institutional mechanisms is crucial for credibility. Democracy hinges on strong institutions, necessitating efforts to enhance independence, autonomy, and transparency.

  

Insta Links:

 

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)