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Bureaucratisation of the Election Commission of India (ECI)

  • Published
    22nd Dec, 2022
Context

The Appointments of Election Commissioners (ECs) and Chief Election Commissioner (CECs) are probed several times by the Supreme Court for being monopolised by the officials of administrative services.

About

About the issue:

  • The way India’s constitutional and political structures have evolved over the years seems to have made elections almost a mechanistic and ritualistic exercise.
  • The reason behind this is the setting up and functioning of the Election Commission of India (ECI).
  • This has come into public discourse because of the hearings in the Supreme Court on the appointment of Election Commissioners (ECs).
  • SC has mentioned that ECI may be useful in the preservation of democracy in the country.

Suggestion for effective functioning and appointment procedure for EC and CEC:

  • Formation of a Committee: An existing committee of Parliament or a new committee formed for this purpose should propose the qualifications and requirements for persons to be appointed as ECs/CEC.
    • The proposals of the committee should be put to Parliament and should be considered approved only if they are approved by two-thirds majority of the members of Parliament present and voting.
    • Once the qualifications and requirements have been approved by Parliament, the same committee should be entrusted with the task of searching for and selecting individuals proposed to be appointed as ECs/CEC.
  • Role of Committee:
    • The committee should invite nominations and applications of individuals appropriate for or interested in being appointed as ECs/CEC.
    • The committee should send its recommendations to Parliament for consideration.
    • Recommendations of the committee should be considered approved by Parliament only if approved by two-thirds majority of the members of Parliament present and voting.
    • Once Parliament approves the recommendations, they should be sent to the President for approving the appointments.
  • Term and Tenure specified: Once appointed, such persons should stay in their positions for ‘six years’ or the ‘age of 75 years’, whichever is earlier. Persons above the age of 69 years should not be appointed.
  • Process of Impeachment: Persons so appointed should be removable only by a process of impeachment as applicable to the Supreme Court judges.

Law Commission 255th Report on Electoral Reforms: Strengthening the office of the Election Commission of India:

  • The Commission in its report inter-alia suggested, the ECI must be strengthened by:
  • Giving equal constitutional protection to all members of the Commission in matters of removability;
  • Making the appointment process of the Election Commissioners and the CEC consultative; and
  • Creating a permanent, independent Secretariat for the ECI.

Present System of Appointment of Election Commissioners

Constitutional versus Executive Power of Appointment:

  • There is no prescribed procedure for appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners as per the constitution. Under the Transaction of Business rules, the President shall appoint the CEC and EC based on the recommendations made by the Prime Minister.
  • Therefore, it is the executive power of the President to appoint CEC and ECs.
  • However, according to Article 324(5), the Parliament has the power to regulate the terms of conditions of service and tenure of ECs. It is under this article that the Parliament has made laws till date, and not under Art. 324(2) in which the Parliament can establish a selection committee for regulating the appointments made by the President.

Aberrations in Appointment:

  • Constituent Assembly Debates: The issue was debated in the Constituent Assembly which finally left over to the government to decide the appointments.
  • Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991 was passed to determine the conditions of service of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners and to provide for the procedure for transaction of business by the ECI. However, the Parliament at that time decided not to put any collegium system for appointment.
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