From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : CEC and Other ECs Bill, 2023
Mains level : Read the attached story
- After being passed in the Rajya Sabha on August 10, the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, has now moved to the Lok Sabha for approval.
CEC and Other EC Bill, 2023
- Objective: To amend constitutional provisions that currently equate Election Commissioners with Supreme Court judges, as well as addressing recent judicial rulings.
Key Provisions of the Bill
- Salary and Service Conditions: The Bill proposes to align the salary, allowances, and service conditions of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the two Election Commissioners with those of a Cabinet Secretary.
- Repealing the 1991 Act: The Bill’s passage would lead to the repeal of the Election Commission Act of 1991, where Election Commissioners enjoyed parity with Supreme Court judges in terms of remuneration.
- Potential Impact: While the stipulated salaries for Supreme Court judges and Cabinet Secretaries are similar, Supreme Court judges receive additional post-retirement benefits, raising concerns about the increased bureaucracy’s potential impact on the authority and independence of Election Commissioners.
Challenges to Independence
- Shifting Authority: The Election Commission’s primary role involves overseeing, directing, and controlling elections, as defined in Article 324 of the Constitution. Concerns arise that this control may shift if Election Commissioners, now equivalent in rank to Cabinet Secretaries, attempt to discipline Union Ministers for electoral violations.
- Current Status: Presently, when commissioners summon government officials, their orders are perceived as carrying the authority of a Supreme Court Judge, a status that may change if they are seen as equals to Cabinet Secretaries.
Preserving Independence and Equivalence to SC Judges
- Constitutional Safeguards: Article 324 (5) of the Constitution specifies that a CEC can only be removed in a manner similar to that of a Supreme Court judge, safeguarding the independence and equivalence of Election Commissioners to Supreme Court judges.
- Previous SC Ruling: The Bill also seeks to constitute a committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and a Cabinet Minister nominated by the PM to select Election Commission members. Notably, this committee excludes the CJI, in contrast to a top court ruling from March 2023.
Background: The SC Ruling
- Committee Formation: In March 2023, a five-judge Supreme Court bench unanimously ruled that a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India (CJI) should select the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs).
- Founding Principles: The ruling emphasized that India’s founding fathers did not intend for the executive to exclusively dictate appointments to the Election Commission, striving for a more balanced selection process.
- PIL Origins: The case originated from a PIL filed in 2015, challenging the constitutionality of the President appointing ECI members based on the PM’s advice.
Impact on the 1991 Act
- Bill’s Amendment: The Bill aims to repeal the 1991 Act, which previously ensured that the CEC and ECs received salaries equivalent to Supreme Court judges.
- Revised Equality: Section 10 of the Bill specifies that the salary, allowances, and service conditions of the CEC and ECs will match those of the Cabinet Secretary, marking a departure from the 1991 Act’s provisions.
Various Concerns Raised
- Autonomy of the Election Commission: Concerns exist due to the selection panel’s composition, which includes a Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister instead of the CJI.
- Unanimous Decisions: Suggestions for unanimous committee decisions aim to address one-sided decision-making concerns.
- Constitutional Validity: Critics argue the Bill violates democratic principles.
- Conflicting SC Judgment: The Bill diverges from the Supreme Court’s ruling on the importance of an independent committee in selecting Election Commissioners.
- Past Electoral Integrity: Some believe Indian elections have been generally fair despite government involvement in Election Commissioner appointments.
- Consistency in Decision-Making: Concerns have been raised about the Commission’s decision consistency regarding Model Code of Conduct violations.
- Timing of Election Announcements: Questions surround election announcement timing in relation to government programs, raising concerns about political influence.
- Balancing Reforms: The Bill reflects efforts to reform election administration but raises concerns about preserving the Election Commission’s independence and its equivalence to Supreme Court judges.
- Evolution of Selection Process: The ongoing debate highlights the evolving process of selecting Election Commissioners, aiming to ensure fair and transparent appointments while safeguarding the institution’s autonomy.