The Supreme Court has raised questions on the present system of the Central government appointing serving bureaucrats of its choice as Chief Election Commissioners (CECs) and Election Commissioners (ECs).

 

Details

The Court said that a “fair and transparent system” should be adopted to appoint the best apolitical person with strong character who can make independent decisions without being influenced.

 

What did the court observe?

  • The Supreme Court said the Central government pays mere “lip-service” to the independence of the Election Commissioners.
    • This is evident from the way the tenures of Chief Election Commissioners (CECs) have “slid” down from over eight years in the 1950s to just about a few hundred days after 2004.
  • The court said successive governments, particularly after 2004, have picked people whom it knew would never ever get close to the full term of six years prescribed under the Election Commission Act, 1991.
    • Section 4 of the 1991 Act says the term of a CEC and Election Commissioners is six years or till the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • The court said protections under Article 324, like removal through impeachment, available under the Constitution to the CECs would only be of any use if he or she had a full term.
  • Referring to former CEC TN Seshan, the court said people came to know about the Commission when he took charge and took a slew of decisions to make the panel independent.
  • The bench observed that involving the Chief Justice of India (CJI) in the selection process of CEC/ECs would go a long way to ensure transparency.
    • The presence of the CJI would send a message that you cannot play games in selection and best person of character would be picked.

 

About the ‘Election Commission of India’

  • Election Commission is a permanent and independent body.
  • By Article 324 of the Constitution of India, it is vested with the power of conducting elections to Parliament, State Legislatures, the office of President and Vice-President of India.
  • Appointment and Tenure of Commissioners –
      • The President appoints the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners.
      • They have tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
      • They enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India.
      • The CEC can be removed from office except in same manner and on the same grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court.
      • The Constitution has not prescribed the qualifications of the members of the Election Commission.
      • The Constitution has not debarred the retiring Election Commissioners from any further appointment by the Government.
  • Composition of Election Commission —
      • Since the inceptions and till 15th October 1989, the EC functioned as a single member body consisting of the CEC.
      • On 16th October 1989, the President appointed two more commissioners to cope with the increased work of the EC, on account of lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 years.
      • In case of difference of opinion amongst the CEC and/or two other election commissioners, the matter is decided by the Commission by majority.
  • Budget and Expenditure —
      • The Secretariat of the Commission has an independent budget, which is finalised directly in consultation between the Commission and the Finance Ministry of the Union Government.
      • If elections are being held only for the Parliament, the expenditure is borne entirely by the Union Government.
      • If elections are being held only for the State Legislature, the expenditure is borne entirely by the concerned State.
      • In case of simultaneous elections to the Parliament and State Legislature, the expenditure is shared equally between the Union and the State Governments.
  • Political Parties and the Commission —
      • Election Commission ensures a level playing field for the political parties in election fray, through strict observance by them of a Model Code of Conduct evolved with the consensus of political parties.
      • Political parties are registered with the Election Commission.
      • The Commission ensures inner party democracy in their functioning by insisting upon them to hold their organisational elections at periodic intervals.
      • The Commission, as a part of its quasi-judicial jurisdiction, also settles disputes between the splinter groups of such recognised parties.
  • At State Level —
      • At State level, the Election Commission is assisted by the Chief Electoral Officer.
        • Chief Electoral Officer is appointed by the Chief Election Commissioner in consultation with the State Government.
      • At District level, the Collector acts as the District Returning Officer.
      • He appoints a Returning Officer for every constituency in the state.