Explained: Article 324 and the special role of Election Commission

Mains Paper 2 : Representation Of People's Act |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 324

Mains level : Powers and Function of ECI


News

Background

  • The Election Commission of India passed an unprecedented order ending the campaign in West Bengal at 10 pm the following day instead of 5 pm on May 17 as was notified earlier, and is the norm.
  • It also removed the state’s Home Secretary, and a senior police officer.
  • The decisions were taken under Article 324 of the Constitution, in response to street violence in Kolkata between cadres of two political parties.

ECI’s freedom, responsibility

  • Article 324 vests “in an Election Commission” the “superintendence, direction and control of elections”. Parliament enacted The RP Act of 1950 and 1951 to define and enlarge the powers of the Commission.
  • Ambedkar introduced the Article 324 on June 15, 1949, saying the whole election machinery should be in the hands of a Central EC, which alone would be entitled to issue directives to returning officers, polling officers and others.
  • There are just five Articles in Part XV (Elections) of the Constitution.
  • The Constituent Assembly was concerned mainly with ensuring the independence of the Election Commission.

Art. 324 occupies the vacuum:

Mohinder Singh Gill vs The CEC, New Delhi and Others (1977)

  • The 1977 Supreme Court judgement held that Article 324 “operates in areas left unoccupied by legislation and the words ‘superintendence, direction and control’ as well as ‘conduct of all elections’ are the broadest terms”.
  • The Constitution has not defined these terms.
  • Article 324 is a plenary provision vesting the whole responsibility for national and State elections in the ECI and therefore, the necessary powers to discharge that function.
  • The framers of the Constitution, a/c to the court, had left scope for exercise of residuary power by the Commission, in its own right, as a creature of the Constitution, in the infinite variety of situations.

Surprise situations

  • The court observed that “legislators are not prophets but pragmatists”, and that the “comprehensive provision in Art. 324 (is) to take care of surprise situations.
  • It underlined that “that power itself has to be exercised, not mindlessly nor mala fide, nor arbitrarily nor with partiality but in keeping with the guidelines of the rule of law and not stultifying the Presidential notification nor existing legislation.

ECI’s role in West Bengal

  • The RP Amendment Act, 1988 (Act 1 of 1989) introduced Section 28A in the RP Act of 1951, which said that all officers deployed for the conduct of an election shall be deemed to be on deputation to the EC.
  • This should be from the notification of the election to the declaration of the results, and such officers shall, during that period, be subject to the control, superintendence and discipline of the EC.
  • The ECI took action against officers for failing in their duties — nothing more was required, except the ordering of a probe.
Electoral Reforms In India
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