Controversy over the Chief Election Commissioner bill

Author : Nimisha Nayak

Updated On : February 14, 2024

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Overview:- The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Office and Terms of Office) Bill, 2023 to appoint the three members of the Election Commission of India (ECI) was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, December 12, amidst a walkout by the opposition.

The bill, introduced in August 2023, suggests changes to how the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and two Election Commissioners (ECs) are to be appointed. The government wanted to lower their status, but due to opposition, they decided to keep it par with judges of the Supreme Court instead of downgrading it to the cabinet secretary level.

A major issue is who gets to choose the committee members. The Supreme Court ruled earlier that the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, and the Chief Justice of India (CJI) should decide on ECI appointments. But the government's proposed bill replaced the CJI with a minister chosen by the PM. This means the committee will mostly have people from the ruling government, giving them a lot of control over choosing election commissioners, which can impact our democracy.

A new part of the bill protects current or former CECs and ECs officers against civil or criminal proceedings, something that was omitted earlier and for things they did or said while doing their official duties. However, what worries opposition members more is protection from political influence. While the CEC is safe from removal like a Supreme Court judge, the two ECs can be removed if the CEC says so.

During the debate on the election commissioners bill, Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar said, "The parliament is the supreme body when it comes to law-making. We cannot suffer interventions of any other organ, be it executive or judiciary. Reflections in the Supreme Court are not binding on the parliament. There cannot be any interference from any other entity, be it the executive or the judiciary, on law-making." the vice-president, who has publicly criticized various rulings of the Supreme Court, such as Kesavananda Bharati and the decision against the National Judicial Appointments Commission, commented on Congress legislator RS Surjewala's mention of the recent judgment by the top court regarding the appointment of election commissioners.

This bill undermines the significance of the Supreme Court, and not only does it involve the Prime Minister, but it also includes a cabinet minister in the Selection Committee. As a result, the majority of the Selection Committee is made up of members from the ruling government, potentially posing a threat to the independence of the Election Commission of India.

The framers of the Constitution recognized the importance of assigning the responsibility of overseeing elections to individuals who are not influenced by political pressures or local interests. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar stressed the need to ensure true electoral freedom by keeping elections separate from the control of the ruling government. Both the Goswami report of 1990 and the Law Commission report of 2015 specified that the Chief Justice should be a part of the Selection Committee.

Controversy over the Chief Election Commissioner bill

Author : Nimisha Nayak

February 14, 2024

SHARE

Overview:- The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Office and Terms of Office) Bill, 2023 to appoint the three members of the Election Commission of India (ECI) was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, December 12, amidst a walkout by the opposition.

The bill, introduced in August 2023, suggests changes to how the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and two Election Commissioners (ECs) are to be appointed. The government wanted to lower their status, but due to opposition, they decided to keep it par with judges of the Supreme Court instead of downgrading it to the cabinet secretary level.

A major issue is who gets to choose the committee members. The Supreme Court ruled earlier that the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, and the Chief Justice of India (CJI) should decide on ECI appointments. But the government's proposed bill replaced the CJI with a minister chosen by the PM. This means the committee will mostly have people from the ruling government, giving them a lot of control over choosing election commissioners, which can impact our democracy.

A new part of the bill protects current or former CECs and ECs officers against civil or criminal proceedings, something that was omitted earlier and for things they did or said while doing their official duties. However, what worries opposition members more is protection from political influence. While the CEC is safe from removal like a Supreme Court judge, the two ECs can be removed if the CEC says so.

During the debate on the election commissioners bill, Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar said, "The parliament is the supreme body when it comes to law-making. We cannot suffer interventions of any other organ, be it executive or judiciary. Reflections in the Supreme Court are not binding on the parliament. There cannot be any interference from any other entity, be it the executive or the judiciary, on law-making." the vice-president, who has publicly criticized various rulings of the Supreme Court, such as Kesavananda Bharati and the decision against the National Judicial Appointments Commission, commented on Congress legislator RS Surjewala's mention of the recent judgment by the top court regarding the appointment of election commissioners.

This bill undermines the significance of the Supreme Court, and not only does it involve the Prime Minister, but it also includes a cabinet minister in the Selection Committee. As a result, the majority of the Selection Committee is made up of members from the ruling government, potentially posing a threat to the independence of the Election Commission of India.

The framers of the Constitution recognized the importance of assigning the responsibility of overseeing elections to individuals who are not influenced by political pressures or local interests. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar stressed the need to ensure true electoral freedom by keeping elections separate from the control of the ruling government. Both the Goswami report of 1990 and the Law Commission report of 2015 specified that the Chief Justice should be a part of the Selection Committee.

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