Election Commission of India: Powers, Functions and Responsibilities


The Election Commission of India, abbreviated as ECI is a constitutional body responsible for administering elections in India according to the rules and regulations mentioned in the Constitution of India.

It was established on January 25, 1950. The major aim of election commission of India is to define and control the process for elections conducted at various levels, Parliament, State Legislatures, and the offices of the President and Vice President of India. It can be said that the Election Commission of India ensures smooth and successful operation of the democracy.

According to Article 324 of Indian Constitution, the Election Commission of India has superintendence, direction, and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature (state legislative assembly & state legislative council) of every State and to the offices of President and Vice-President of India.

Initially, the commission had only a Chief Election Commissioner. Presently, it consists of a Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners. For the first time, two additional Commissioners were appointed on 16th October 1989 but they had a very short term till 1st January 1990. Afterwards, on 1st October 1993 two additional Election Commissioners were appointed. The concept of multi-member Commission has been in operation since then, with decision-making power by majority vote.

Appointment & Tenure of Commissioners

  1. The President has the power to select Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
  2. They have tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  3. They have the same status and receive pay and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India.
  4. The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through accusation by Parliament.
  5. Election commissioner or a regional commissioner shall not be removed from office except on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner.

Advisory Jurisdiction & Quasi-Judicial Functions

  1. Under the Constitution, the Commission also has advisory jurisdiction in the matter of post-election ineligibility of sitting members of Parliament and State Legislatures.
  2. Additionally, the cases of persons found guilty of dishonest practices at elections which come before the Supreme Court and High Courts are also referred to the Commission for its opinion on the question as to whether such person shall be disqualified and, if so, for what period. The judgment of the Commission in all such matters is binding on the President or, as the case may be, the Governor to whom such opinion is tendered.
  3. The Commission has the power to prohibit a candidate who has failed to lodge an account of his election expenses within the time and in the manner set by law.
  4. The Commission has also the power to remove or reduce the period of such disqualification as also other disqualification under the law.

Administrative Powers

  1. To decide the territorial areas of the electoral constituencies throughout the country on the basis of the Delimitation Commission Act of Parliament.
  2. To organize and periodically amend electoral rolls and to register all qualified voters.
  3. To inform the dates & schedules of election and to scrutinize the nomination papers.
  4. To grant recognition to political parties & allot election symbols to them.
  5. To act as a court for settling disputes related to granting of recognition to political parties and allotment of election symbol to them.
  6. ECI appoints the following-
    1. Chief Electoral Officer– ECI in consultation with State Government/Union Territory Administration nominates or designates an Officer of the said State/UT as the Chief Electoral Officer to supervise the election work in the State/UT
    2. District Election Officer– ECI in consultation with the State Government/ Union Territory Administration designates an officer of the said State/UT as the District Election Officer to supervise the election work of a district
    3. Returning Officer– ECI in consultation with State Government/Union Territory Administration nominates or designates an officer of the Government or a local authority as the Returning Officer for each assembly and parliamentary constituency. Returning Officer is responsible for the conduct of elections in the parliamentary or assembly constituency and may be assisted by one or more Assistant Returning Officers (again appointed by ECI) in the performance of his functions
    4. Electoral Registration Officer– ECI appoints the officer of State or local government as Electoral Registration Officer for the preparation of Electoral rolls for a parliamentary/ assembly constituency

Role of Election Commission of India

Election commission plays a vital role in organizing elections. The most critical challenge before the Election Commission of India is to implement norms and the Model Code of Conduct to ensure free and fair elections in the country. Its existence and independence are necessitated by history, which has revealed that self-governing elections are not free from disruption. Towards this end, it has been empowered to supervise political parties and candidates and take appropriate action in case of violations.

Functions and Powers

Key functions of the Election Commission of India are as under:

    1. The Election Commission of India is considered the guardian of free and reasonable elections.
    2. It issues the Model Code of Conduct in every election for political parties and candidates so that the decorum of democracy is maintained.
    3. It regulates political parties and registers them for being eligible to contest elections.
    4. It publishes the allowed limits of campaign expenditure per candidate to all the political parties, and also monitors the same.
    5. The political parties must submit their annual reports to the ECI for getting tax benefit on contributions.
    6. It guarantees that all the political parties regularly submit their audited financial reports.

Other powers handled by the Election Commission of India are as follows:

    1. The Commission can repress the results of opinion polls if it deems such an action fit for the cause of democracy.
    2. The Commission can recommend for disqualification of members after the elections if it thinks they have violated certain guidelines.
    3. In case, a candidate is found guilty of dishonest practices during the elections, the Supreme Court and High Courts consult the Commission.
    4. The Commission can postpone candidates who fail to submit their election expense accounts timely.

The main duties of the Election Commission are:

  1. To supervise, direct, control and conduct all elections to Parliament and State Legislatures as also to the office of the President and Vice- President of India.
  2. To set down general rules for election.
  3. To determine constituencies and to prepare electoral rolls.
  4. To give credit to political parties.
  5. To allot election symbols to different political parties and individual contestants.
  6. To appoint tribunals for the decision of doubts and disputes arising out of or in connection with election to parliament and State Legislatures.

Constitutional Provisions

  1. Art. 324: broadly speaks of the functions of EC and its composition.
  2. Art. 325: there shall be one general electoral roll for every territorial constituency for election to either Houses of Parliament and State legislature. It establishes equality among citizens by affirming that no person shall be ineligible for inclusion in the electoral roll on the grounds of religion, race, caste or sex.
  3. Art. 326: lays down adult suffrage as the basis of elections to the Lok Sabha and to the Legislative Assemblies of States.
  4. Art. 327: confers on Parliament the power to make provisions with respect to elections to federal and State Legislatures
  5. Art. 328: confers on State Legislature the power to make laws with respect to elections to such legislature
  6. Art. 329: bars interference by courts in electoral matters. Notwithstanding anything said in the constitution i.e. validity of any law relating to the delimitation of constituencies or the allotment of seats to such constituencies shall not be called in question in any court

No election to either House of Parliament or either House of the Legislature of a State shall be called in question except by an election petition. Any elector or candidate can file an election petition on grounds of malpractice during the election. In respect of elections to the Parliament and State Legislatures, they can only be filed before the High Court and in respect of elections for the offices of President and Vice President, such petitions can only be filed before the Supreme Court.

Are the commissioners and the CEC equal?

  1. In S.S. Dhanoa vs Union of India (1991), the SC held: “The chief election commissioner does not appear to be primus inter pares, i.e. first among equals, but he is intended to be placed in a distinctly higher position”
  2. In T.N. Seshan vs Union of India (1995), the SC held that the CEC and ECs are equal. CEC is given the power of recommending the removal of ECs with the intention of shielding them and not to use it against them. CEC cannot use its suo moto as he is an equal to them.

The Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Conditions of Service) Act, 1991, as amended, provides that in case of difference of opinion on any matter, such matter shall be decided by the opinion of the majority. Thus the CEC cannot over-ride any decision of the commission by himself. As Chairman of the Election Commission he presides over the meetings, conducts the business of the day and ensures smooth transaction of business of the commission.

Independence of the Election Commission

Article 324 of the Constitution has made the following provisions to safeguard and ensure the independent and impartial functioning of the election commission:

  1. The CEC is provided with the security of tenure. He holds office for a term of 6 years from the date he assumes office or till he attains the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier
  2. Art. 324(5) says that the CEC cannot be removed from his office except in like manner and on like grounds as a Judge of the Supreme Court i.e. he 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, either on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity
  3. Any other election commissioner or a regional commissioner cannot be removed from office except on the recommendation of the CEC
  4. The service conditions of the CEC cannot be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment

Some flaws:

    1. The Constitution has not prescribed the qualifications (legal, educational, administrative or judicial) of the members of the Election Commission.
    2. The Constitution has not debarred the retiring election commissioners from any further appointment by the government.
    3. The administrative expenses of the EC or the salaries, allowances, and pensions of the CEC and ECs are not charged on the Consolidated Fund of India.

Electoral Reforms

  • Model Code of Conduct

EC first issued a Model Code of Conduct for political parties at the time of the fifth general elections, held in 1971. Since then, the Code has been revised from time to time and lays down guidelines as to how political parties and candidates should conduct themselves during elections.

A provision was made under the Code that from the time the elections are announced by the Commission, Ministers and other authorities cannot announce any financial grant, make promises of construction of roads, carry out any appointments in government and public undertakings which may have the effect of influencing the voters in favour of the ruling party.

Despite the acceptance of the Code of Conduct by political parties, cases of its violation have been on the rise. It is a general complaint that the party in power at the time of elections misuses the official machinery to further the electoral prospects of its candidates.

The misuse of official machinery takes different forms, such as issue of advertisements at the cost of public exchequer, misuse of official mass media during election period for partisan coverage of political news and publicity regarding their achievements, misuse of government transport including aircraft/helicopter, vehicles.

  • Disclosure of Antecedents by Candidates

In June 2002, the EC on the direction of the Supreme Court, issued an order under Article 324 that each candidate must submit an affidavit regarding the information of his/her criminal antecedents; assets (both movable and immovable) of self and those of spouses and dependents as well; and qualifications at the time of filing his/her nomination papers for election to the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies.

But political parties believed that the EC and the judiciary were overstepping their powers. At the all-party meeting, held on July 8, 2002, representatives of 21 political parties decided that the EC’s order should not be allowed to be implemented. The Supreme Court again came out as a guardian of the citizen’s right to information.

The Supreme Court made it clear that failing to furnish the relevant affidavit shall be considered as a violation of the Supreme Court’s order and as such the nomination papers shall be liable to be rejected by the Returning Officer.

Furnishing of wrong or incomplete information shall result in the rejection of nomination papers, apart from inviting penal consequences under the Indian Penal Code. The 2004 General Elections were conducted under these rules.

The above order is an effective step to make democracy healthy and unpolluted. Citizens have every right to know about the persons whom they prefer as their representatives.

The EC has directed all Returning Officers to display the copies of nomination papers and affidavits filed by candidates to the general public and representatives of print and electronic media, free of cost.

  • Registration of Political Parties

The party system is an essential feature of parliamentary democracy. However, there is no direct reference to political parties in the Constitution of India. The statutory law relating to registration of political parties was enacted in 1989 which was quite liberal.

As a result, a large number of non-serious parties mushroomed and got registered with the Commission. Many of them did not contest elections at all after their registration. It led to confusion among electors as to whom to vote. To eliminate the mushrooming of parties, the EC had to take some rigorous steps:

  1. The Commission now registers a party which has at least 100 registered electors as its members and is also charging a nominal processing fee of Rs 10,000 to cover the administrative expenses which it will have to incur on correspondence with the parties after their registration.
  2. In order to ensure that the registered political parties practice democracy in their internal functioning, the Commission requires them to hold their organizational elections regularly in accordance with their constitutions.

The measures taken by the EC to streamline the registration of political parties have shown effective results.

  • Checking Criminalisation of Politics

The EC has expressed its serious concern over the entry of anti-social and criminal persons into the electoral arena. It has set down norms and made recommendations to the government to curb the menace of criminalization of politics.

  1. The Commission has urged all political parties to reach a consensus that no person with a criminal background will be given the party ticket.
  2. The candidates to an election are also obliged to submit an affidavit in a prescribed form declaring their criminal records, including convictions, charges pending and cases initiated against them. The information so furnished by the candidates is disseminated to the public, and to the print and electronic media.
  • Limits on Poll Expenses

To get rid of the growing influence and vulgar show of money during elections, the EC has fixed legal limits on the amount of money which a candidate can spend during the election campaign. These limits are revised from time to time. The EC, by appointing expenditure observers keeps an eye on the individual accounts of election expenditure made by a candidate during election campaign. The contestants are also required to give details of expenditure within 30 days of the declaration of the election results.

Apart from this, the EC is also in favor of holding the Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections simultaneously, and to reduce the campaign period from 21 to 14 days. This, they feel, will lead to trim down the election expenditure.

Use of Scientific and Technological Advancements

  • EVMs:

EC has been trying to bring improvements in election procedures by taking advantage of scientific and technological advancements. The introduction of ‘electronic voting machines’ (EVMs) is one of the steps in that direction by reducing malpractices and also improving the efficiency of the voting process.

On an experimental basis, the EVMs were first tried in the State of Kerala during the 1982 Legislative Assembly Elections. In June 1999 Assembly elections, Goa became the first State to successfully use EVMs in all its Assembly constituencies.

In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the machines were used all over the country. It is a major initiative taken by the EC to make the electoral process simple, quick and trouble-free. It has saved money, solved several logistical issues and also contributed to the conservation of the environment through saving of paper. Another major advantage of these machines is that the counting of votes becomes more fast and accurate.

  • IT

EC has not lagged behind in making use of Information Technology for efficient electoral management and administration. It launched a website of its own in 1998.

This is now a good source to have accurate information about elections, election laws, manuals and handbooks published by the Commission.

  • Computerization of Electoral Rolls

With a view to prevent impersonation of electors at the time of voting and to eliminate bogus and fictitious entries into electoral rolls, EC took a bold step in 1998 to take a nationwide program for the ‘computerisation’ of electoral rolls.

The printed electoral rolls, as well as CDs containing these rolls, are available to the general public for sale national and State parties are provided these free of cost after every revision of electoral rolls.

The entire country’s electoral rolls are available on its website. Karnataka became the first State to prepare electoral rolls with the photographs of voters in the 2008 elections.

  • EPICs:

In an attempt to improve the accuracy of the electoral rolls and prevent electoral fraud, the Election Commission in August 1993 ordered the issuance of electors’ photo identity cards (EPICs) for all voters.

During the 2004 Assembly elections, it was mandatory for people possessing EPICs to furnish it at the time of voting. The distribution of EPICs, on the part of Election Commission, was a major step to reduce electoral malpractices. Only genuine voters were listed in the rolls with the issuance of voter identity cards.

  • De-criminalization of politics

For preventing persons with criminal background from becoming legislators, the Commission has made a proposal for disqualifying (from contesting election) a person against whom charges have been framed by a Court for an offence punishable by imprisonment of 5 years or more. There is a provision of disqualification once a person is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment of two years or more. The Commission’s proposal is for disqualification even prior to conviction, provided the court has framed charges. As a precaution against foisting false cases on the eve of election, it has been suggested that only those cases in which charges are framed six months prior to an election should be taken into account for that election.

  • Political parties reforms

The political parties should be legally required to get their accounts audited annually. The audited accounts should be put in public domain. There should be transparency in the fund raising and expenditure of political parties. Income tax exemption for donations should be given only for those political parties which contest election and win seats in the Parliament/State Legislature.

  • Misuse of religion for electoral gain

The Commission has proposed that the provision in that Bill should be considered for avoiding misuse of religion by political parties.

  • Amendment of law to make `paid news’ an electoral offence

The Commission has been proposed amendment in the Representation of People Act (RoPA) , 1951, to provide therein that publishing and abetting the publishing of `paid news’ for furthering the prospect of election of any candidate or for prejudicially affecting the prospect of election of any candidate be made an electoral offence with punishment of a minimum of two years imprisonment.

  • Negative/neutral voting

In the ballot paper and on the ballot unit, after the particulars relating to the last candidate, there should be provisions for a column `none of the above’ to enable a voter to reject all candidates if he so desires.

  • Ban on transfer of election officers on the eve of election

In the case of general election, there should be a ban against transferring any election related officer without the concurrence of the Commission for a period of six months prior to the expiry of the term of the House.

  • Punishment for false affidavit by candidates

RoPA, 1951 provides that furnishing false information in the affidavit filed by the candidate is an offence punishable by imprisonment up to six months or with fine. There is no clear provision for follow-up action in the event of candidates filing false affidavits. EC has recommended that RoPA, 1951 should be amended to provide that any complaint regarding false statement in the affidavit filed by the candidates in connection with the nomination paper shall be filed before the Returning Officer (RO) concerned within a period of 30 days from the date of declaration of the election and that it shall be the responsibility of the RO to take proper follow-up action. Alternatively, complaint can lie directly to the Magistrate Court.

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