Judge, Not Secretary
A proposed legislative move (Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service, and Term of Office) Bill, 2023) to downgrade the status of members of the Election Commission (EC) in India is causing apprehension.
Undermining the Role of Election Commission:
- Legal Equivalence at Stake: The current status of the Election Commission places its members on par with Supreme Court judges, underscoring their critical role in upholding democratic processes.
- Proposed Downgrade: The Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service, and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, proposes aligning EC members' service conditions and salaries with that of civil servants.
- Diminished Authority: While financial remuneration may not be the core issue, the bill's potential to downgrade EC members to the status of civil servants sends a disconcerting signal. It could limit the EC's authority to discipline political leaders during crucial election periods.
The Importance of an Independent Election Commission:
- Constitutional Empowerment: Article 324 of the Indian Constitution grants the EC independence and tasks it with the crucial responsibility of "superintendence, control, and direction of elections."
- Guardians of Democracy: Over the years, the EC has grown into an impartial and fair institution, enhancing the legitimacy of India's electoral system.
- Historical Significance: The EC's standing was significantly fortified in the 1990s when former CEC T. N. Seshan firmly asserted its constitutional role in enforcing electoral rules.
Challenges and the Need for Reflection:
- Erosion of EC's Impartiality: While the EC has enjoyed a reputation for impartiality, recent instances have raised questions about its adherence to these standards.
- Bill's Shortcomings: The proposed Bill fails to recognize the EC's exceptional standing and importance in safeguarding democracy. Arguments related to the "table of precedence" miss the point, as this issue transcends mere protocol and concerns the autonomy and dignity of the EC.
- Call for Reconsideration: To protect the institution's dignity and autonomy, the government should reconsider the proposed legislation and acknowledge the EC's vital role in India's democracy.