11 Aug Proposed Changes to Election Commission Appointment
This article covers “Daily Current Affairs” and the topic details “Proposed Changes to Election Commission Appointment”. The topic “Proposed Changes to Election Commission Appointment” has relevance in the “Indian Polity” section of the UPSC CSE exam.
What are the proposed Changes to the Election Commission Appointment Process?
What is the Election Commission?
GS2: Indian Constitution, Appointments to various constitutional posts
Why in the news?
The Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, was presented in the Rajya Sabha on August 10, 2023. The Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991, is repealed by this bill.
Proposed Changes to Election Commission Appointment
Composition of the Election Commission
- As per Article 324 of the Constitution, the Election Commission comprises the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other Election Commissioners (ECs), determined by the President.
- The bill maintains this composition and states that the President will appoint the CEC and ECs based on a recommendation from a Selection Committee.
The Selection Committee
- The Selection Committee includes –
- Prime Minister as Chairperson,
- Leader of the Opposition in House of People – Lok Sabha,
- Union Cabinet Minister selected by the Prime Minister.
- If the Leader of the Opposition is not recognized, the role goes to the leader of the largest opposition party in Lok Sabha.
Role of the Search Committee
- A Search Committee, headed by the Cabinet Secretary and including two other high-ranking central government officials with election-related expertise, will create a list of five potential candidates.
- The Selection Committee may consider candidates beyond this list as well.
Qualifications of CEC and ECs
- Individuals with roles equivalent to a central government Secretary can become CEC and ECs.
- They must possess expertise in election management and conduct.
Salary, Allowances, and Service Conditions
- The bill establishes that the salary, allowances, and service conditions for the CEC and other ECs will be the same as those of the Cabinet Secretary.
Term of Office
- The bill retains the existing provision that the CEC and ECs serve for up to six years or until they turn 65, whichever comes first.
- If an EC becomes the CEC, their total term remains limited to six years.
- Reappointment is not permitted.
- All Election Commission decisions must be unanimous.
- If there’s a disagreement between the CEC and other ECs, a majority vote settles the matter.
Removal and Resignation
- Similar to Supreme Court judges, the CEC can only be removed following a process involving a motion passed by both Houses of Parliament, with a majority of total membership and at least two-thirds support from members present and voting.
- The CEC’s resignation can be submitted to the President. The same procedures apply to the removal and resignation of ECs.
Supreme Court’s Ruling
- In March 2023, the Supreme Court’s five-judge bench ruled together that the President will choose the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners based on advice from a Committee.
- This Committee will have the
- Prime Minister,
- Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha
- Chief Justice of India (CJI).
- The court’s decision was provisional, as it stated that Parliament has the authority to reverse the Supreme Court’s ruling by enacting a new law regarding the matter.
- The Court’s decision is based on understanding the intentions of the Constitution’s founders by analysing debates from the Constituent Assembly. The verdict emphasises that the Assembly members agreed that elections should be overseen by an independent Commission, a significant departure from the previous system under the Government of India Act, 1935.
- The inclusion of the phrase “subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf by Parliament” after thorough discussions indicates that the founders expected Parliament to establish rules for appointing the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
- The ruling examined various Constitution provisions, like those related to Supreme Court and High Court powers, and the establishment of Commissions for SC, ST, and Backward Classes. The Court noticed that while laws were created for these areas, no law exists for appointing the Chief Election Commissioner even after 70 years of independence.
Appointment Process before the Supreme Court ruling:
- The Constitution (Articles 324-329, Part XV) empowers the Election Commission with “superintendence, direction, and control of elections.” It comprises the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners, as determined by the President.
- However, the Constitution doesn’t prescribe a specific procedure for their appointment.
- Thus, the President appointed them based on advice from the Union Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.
- The removal of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) from the Committee involved in the appointment process raises concerns about the balance of power and the potential influence of the executive branch over the Election Commission.
- The participation of the CJI ensured a broader representation of checks and balances in the appointment process, enhancing the impartiality and credibility of the Commission.
- To enhance the credibility and independence of the Election Commission, a way forward could involve the formation of a broader committee for appointments. This committee should include a diverse group of stakeholders such as legal experts, eminent personalities from academia, representatives from civil society, and retired members of the judiciary.
- By ensuring that the majority of the committee members do not have affiliations with the union government, the process would be shielded from undue political influence.
In conclusion, the evolving approach towards appointing the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners underlines the importance of maintaining a strong, impartial, and independent Election Commission. This is a fundamental step in upholding the democratic fabric of a nation and ensuring that the electoral process remains transparent, fair, and accountable to the people it serves.
Q1. With reference to the proposed changes to Election Commission Appointment, consider the following statements:
- The President shall appoint the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners based on a recommendation from a Selection Committee.
- The Selection Committee comprises the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, and a Union Cabinet Minister chosen by the Prime Minister.
- If the Leader of the Opposition is not recognized, the role goes to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 3 only
Q2. Consider the following :
- Individuals with roles equivalent to a central government Secretary can become Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
- The salary, allowances, and service conditions for the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners will match those of the Cabinet Secretary.
- The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners serve for up to six years or until they turn 65, whichever comes first.
- If an Election Commissioner becomes the Chief Election Commissioner, their total term can be extended beyond six years through reappointment.
How many of the abovementioned statements are correct ?
(a) Only one
(b) Only two
(c) Only three
(d) All Four
Q3. In light of the Supreme Court’s emphasis on an independent Election Commission, how does the appointment process outlined in the proposed bill ensure that the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner aligns with principles of accountability and avoids potential misuse for political purposes?