Election Commissioner quits

GS Paper II

News Excerpt:
Just before the announcement of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Election Commissioner Arun Goel resigned from his office, leaving the three-member Election Commission with only one remaining member.

About the news:

  • Arun Goel was appointed as Election Commissioner in November 2022 and was scheduled to retire in December 2027.
  • His resignation as Election Commissioner is only the third such instance in the Commission’s history. 
    • In 1973, Chief Election Commissioner Nagender Singh resigned before completing his term at the poll panel to become a judge at the International Court of Justice.
    • In August 2020, Ashok Lavasa quit EC to join as the Vice president of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). 

Impact on Lok Sabha Elections:

  • Legally, the Lok Sabha polls can proceed with a one-member Election Commission if new appointments are not made before the Model Code of Conduct comes into effect.
  • However, this situation would raise concerns about propriety.
    • All powers, including deciding crucial complaints of poll code violations and ensuring a fair electoral environment during the Lok Sabha elections, would be centralized in one individual.
    • This concentration of authority in a single person may lead to questions regarding the fairness and transparency of the electoral process.

Appointment of Election Commissioner:

  • The Election Commissioners are appointed by the President on the recommendation of a search committee.
    • The search committee comprises the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, and a Cabinet Minister.
    • A similar committee also selects the Lokpal and the Central Vigilance Commissioner.

How were the Election Commissioners appointed earlier?

  • The power to make appointments rested exclusively with the Executive.
  • The government maintained a database of serving and retired officers, primarily Secretaries to the Government of India and Chief Secretaries, from which the Law Ministry would create a shortlist.
  • The Prime Minister held the power to decide the appointment, with the President formally appointing the chosen candidate.

What prompted the change?

  • In 2022, a five-judge Constitution bench started hearing the petitions which broadly called for a fair and transparent system to choose the Election Commissioners.
  • The petitioners pointed out that Article 324(2) specifies the President’s role in appointing Election Commissioners, with the caveat that this appointment is subject to any law passed by Parliament.
    • However, successive governments have not shown any inclination to enact such a law.
    • The appointment system was criticized for being opaque and raised doubts about the institution’s independence.
    • There was a call for a consultative process in which a collegium or a body of persons is tasked with the responsibility of selecting the Election Commissioners.
  • In 2023, a Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court (SC) ruled on the matter.
    • The SC observed that the inclusion of the words “subject to any law to be made by Parliament” in Article 324 (2) was representative of the need for Parliament to legislate on this matter.
    • It ruled that the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners shall be made by the President on the advice of a committee consisting of -
      • the Prime Minister
      • the Leader of the Opposition of the Lok Sabha (in case no Leader of the Opposition is available, the leader of the largest opposition Party in the Lok Sabha in terms of numerical strength) and
      • the Chief Justice of India
    • Meanwhile, Parliament is free to enact a law on the appointment process in the future.
  • The Union Government introduced, The Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, outlining the procedure for appointing Election Commissioners which was passed by Parliament in December 2023 and also received the President's assent.
    • It establishes a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and a Cabinet Minister nominated by the PM.
    • The selection will be made from five names shortlisted by a screening panel headed by the Law Minister and comprising two Union secretaries.

Election Commission of India (ECI):

  • The ECI is an autonomous constitutional body responsible for conducting free and fair elections in India.
  • The administration of India's Union and State elections is the purview of the Election Commission of India, an independent constitutional body.
  • The commission also oversees elections for the President and Vice President of India and the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and State Legislative Assemblies.

Constitutional provisions relevant to the EC:

  • Part XV of the Indian Constitution addresses elections and establishes a commission to deal with these issues.
  • In accordance with the Constitution, the Election Commission was established on January 25, 1950.
  • The Constitution's Articles 324 to 329 deal with the Commission's and the member's authority, function, tenure, eligibility, etc.
  • One of the essential tools employed by the ECI to ensure a level playing field for all political parties and candidates is the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).

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