Context:

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking the constitution of an independent collegium to appoint members of the Election Commission.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Bodies, Government Interventions for Transparency and Accountability in governance)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Election Commission of India
  2. Structure of the Election Commission
  3. Present system of Appointment to the Election Commission
  4. Recommendations in the past for collegium to appoint EC and CEC
  5. The need for having a collegium for appointment of EC and CEC

About the Election Commission of India

  • The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering Union and State election processes in India.
  • The body administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and State Legislative Assemblies in India, and the offices of the President and Vice President in the country.
  • Part XV of the Indian constitution deals with elections, and establishes a commission for these matters.
  • The Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950.
  • Article 324 to 329 of the constitution deals with powers, function, tenure, eligibility, etc., of the commission and the member.

Structure of the Election Commission

  • Originally the commission had only one election commissioner but after the Election Commissioner Amendment Act 1989, it has been made a multi-member body.
  • The commission consists of one Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
  • The secretariat of the commission is located in New Delhi.
  • At the state level election commission is helped by Chief Electoral Officer who is an IAS rank Officer.
  • The President appoints Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
  • They have a fixed tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • They enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India.
  • The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through a process of removal similar to that of a Supreme Court judge for by Parliament.

Present system of Appointment to the Election Commission

  • The Constitution of India does NOT prescribe any procedure for appointment of the CEC and EC. However, the Parliament has the power to regulate the terms of conditions of service and tenure of ECs according to Article 324(5) in the Constitution.
  • According to this provision in Article 324 – to determine the conditions of service of the CEC and other ECs and to provide for the procedure for transaction of business by the ECI – Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991 was passed.
  • The appointment of CEC and EC is dealt with in the Transaction of Business rules 1961 – according to which 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.)
  • There is also the Article 324(2), which states that the President shall, with aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, appoint CEC and ECs, till Parliament enacts a law fixing the criteria for selection, conditions of service and tenure.

Recommendations in the past for collegium to appoint EC and CEC

  • According to the plea filed in the SC, recommendations to have a neutral collegium to fill up vacancies in the Election Commission have been given by several expert committees, commissions from 1975.
  • The recommendation to have a neutral collegium to appoint EC and CEC was also part of the Law Commission’s 255th report in March 2015.
  • In 2009, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission in its fourth report suggested a collegium system for appointment CEC and ECs.
  • In 1990, the Dinesh Goswami Committee recommended effective consultation with neutral authorities like the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition for the appointment in the Election Commission.
  • In 1975, the Justice Tarkunde Committee recommended that the members of the Election Commission should be appointed by the President on the advice of a Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.

The need for having a collegium for appointment of EC and CEC

  • The appointment of members of the Election Commission on the whims and fancies of the Executive violates the very foundation on which it was created, thus, making the Commission a branch of the Executive.
  • The 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 the sole participant in the appointment of members of the Election Commission as it gives unfettered discretion to the ruling party to choose someone whose loyalty to it is ensured and thereby renders the selection process vulnerable to manipulation.

Main hurdle in setting up such a collegium

For other constitutional positions, similar demands can be raised where it is the imperative of the executive to make such appointments like for Attorney General or Comptroller & Auditor-General. For the appointment of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director and the Central Vigilance Commissioner, committees are constituted. But these are statutory positions. As of now, there is no committee for constitutional appointments.

-Source: The Hindu

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