Appointment of Election Commissioners
The President appointed former Finance Secretary Rajiv Kumar as the new Election Commissioner in a three-member Election Commission of India (ECI). Kumar is presently holding the office of chairperson Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB).
• Article 324 of the Constitution has made the following provisions with regard to the composition of election commission:
o The Election Commission shall consist of the chief election commissioner and such number of other election commissioners, if any, as the president may from time to time fix.
o The appointment of the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners shall be made by the president.
o When any other election commissioner is so appointed, the chief election commissioner shall act as the chairman of the election commission.
o The president may also appoint after consultation with the election commission such regional commissioners as he may consider necessary to assist the election commission.
o The conditions of service and tenure of office of the election commissioners and the regional commissioners shall be determined by the president.
• The chief election commissioner and the two other election commissioners have equal powers and receive equal salary, allowances and other perquisites, which are similar to those of a judge of the Supreme Court.
• They hold office for a term of six years or until they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. They can resign at any time or can also be removed before the expiry of their term.
The Election Commission is a formidable institution which has led the world in electoral efficiency since its inception. But in the 2019 general election, it has come under the scanner like never before in the wake of incidents involving a breach of the Model Code of Conduct, particularly those by the ruling party. There were concerns raised regarding the weak conduct of the EC by many retired bureaucrats.
A PIL was also filed in the Supreme Court calling for a “fair, just and transparent process of selection by constituting a neutral and independent Collegium/selection committee.
Besides the manner of appointment, the system of removal of Election Commissioners also needs correction. Only the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is protected from being removed except through impeachment.
The genesis of the problem lies in the flawed system of appointment of election commissioners, who are appointed unilaterally by the government of the day. This debate can be settled once and for all by depoliticising appointments through a broad-based consultation, as in other countries.
In its 255th report, the Law Commission recommended a collegium, consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.But successive ruling governments have ducked the issue, not wanting to let go of their power. It is obvious that political and electoral interests take precedence over the national interest.
Elections are the bedrock of democracy and the EC’s credibility is central to democratic legitimacy. Hence, the guardian of elections itself needs urgent institutional safeguards to protect its autonomy. It is time that action is taken to depoliticise constitutional appointments and the EC empowered to de-register parties for electoral misconduct. It is a step needed towards restoring all-important public faith in the institution.