Electoral Reforms In India

Need to recast the selection process of the ECs

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 324

Mains level : Paper 2- Need to change the selection process of Election Commissioners

Context

The attendance of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and his Election Commissioner (EC) colleagues at an “informal” meeting with the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister has brought renewed focus on the independence and impartiality of the Election Commission of India (ECI).

Need for changes in the appointment process

  • The changes in the appointment process for ECs can strengthen ECI’s independence, neutrality and transparency. 
  • The appointment of ECs falls within the purview of Article 324(2) of the Constitution, which establishes the institution.
  • Article 324(2) contains a ‘subject to’ clause which provides that both the number and tenure of the ECs shall be “subject to provisions of any law made in that behalf by Parliament, be made by the President.”
  • Apart from enacting a law in 1989 enlarging the number of ECs from one to three, Parliament has so far not enacted any changes to the appointment process.
  • In 1975 itself, the Justice Tarkunde Committee recommended that ECs be appointed on the advice of a Committee comprising the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Opposition Leader and the Chief Justice.
  • This was reiterated by the Dinesh Goswami Committee in 1990 and the Law Commission in 2015.
  • The 4th Report (2007) of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission additionally recommended that the Law Minister and the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha be included in such a Collegium.
  • Violation of Article 14 and 324: Three Writ Petitions, with one pending since 2015, are urging the Supreme Court to declare that the current practice of appointment of ECs by the Centre violates Article 14, Article 324(2), and Democracy as a basic feature of the Constitution.
  • Precedent does exist in the case of Rojer Mathew v South Indian Bank Ltd, to argue against the Executive being the sole appointer for a quasi-judicial body.
  • The Supreme Court had recognised that “Election Commission is not only responsible for conducting free and fair elections but it also renders a quasi-judicial function between the various political parties including the ruling government and other parties.”
  • In such circumstances, the executive cannot be a sole participant in the appointment of members of Election Commission as it gives unfettered discretion to the ruling party.

Way forward

  • Establishing a multi-institutional, bipartisan committee for fair and transparent selection of ECs can enhance the perceived and actual independence of ECI.
  • Such a procedure is already followed with regard to other Constitutional and Statutory Authorities such as the Chief Information Commissioner, Lokpal, Vigilance Commissioner, and the Director of the Central Bureau of Intelligence.

Consider the question “What is the procedure for the appointment of Election Commissioners? What are the issues with this procedure? Suggest the way forward.”

Conclusion

ECI’s constitutional responsibilities require a fair and transparent appointment process that is beyond reproach, which will reaffirm our faith in this vital pillar of our polity.

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