Concerns and Reforms: The CEC and Other EC Bill, 2023

The Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service, and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, which was passed in the Rajya Sabha on August 10, has now been sent to the Lok Sabha for approval.

2023 CEC and Other EC Bill

  • The goal is to change constitutional provisions that currently equate Election Commissioners with Supreme Court justices, as well as to address recent judicial judgements.

Key Provisions of the Bill

  • Salary and Service Conditions: Salary and Service Conditions: The Bill aims to harmonise the Chief Election Commissioner’s (CEC) salary, allowances, and service conditions with those of a Cabinet Secretary.
  • Repealing the Act of 1991: The Bill’s approval would result in the revocation of the Election Commission Act of 1991, which gave Election Commissioners pay parity with Supreme Court judges.
  • While the salaries for Supreme Court judges and Cabinet Secretaries are similar, Supreme Court judges receive additional post-retirement benefits, raising concerns about the increased bureaucracy’s potential impact on Election Commissioners’ authority and independence.

Challenges to Independence

  • Shifting Authority: According to Article 324 of the Constitution, the primary responsibility of the Election Commission is to oversee, direct, and control elections. Concerns have been raised that this control may shift if Election Commissioners, who are now equal in rank to Cabinet Secretaries, attempt to penalise Union Ministers for election infractions.
  • Current Status: When commissioners summon government officials, their orders are viewed as having the authority of a Supreme Court Judge, a status that may change if they are seen as equals to Cabinet Secretaries.

Preserving Independence and Equivalence to SC Judges

  • Constitutional Safeguards for Election Commissioners’ Independence and Equivalence to Supreme Court Judges: Article 324 (5) of the Constitution states that a CEC can only be removed in a manner similar to that of a Supreme Court judge, ensuring Election Commissioners’ independence and equivalence to Supreme Court judges.
  • Previous Supreme Court Decision: The Bill also proposes forming a committee to pick Election Commission members, consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and a Cabinet Minister recommended by the PM. Notably, unlike a March 2023 top court order, this committee excludes the CJI.

Background: Formation of the Supreme Court

  • Ruling Committee: In March 2023, a five-judge Supreme Court panel unanimously declared that the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs) shall be chosen by a committee comprised of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India (CJI).
  • The judgement emphasised that India’s founding fathers did not intend for the administration to solely dictate appointments to the Election Commission, but aiming for a more balanced selection process.
  • Origins of PIL: The lawsuit arose from a PIL filed in 2015, which questioned the constitutionality of the President selecting ECI members on the suggestion of the Prime Minister.

Influence on the 1991 Act

  • Amendment to the Bill: The Bill seeks to abolish the 1991 Act, which formerly guaranteed that the CEC and ECs were paid salaries comparable to Supreme Court justices.
  • Revised Equality: Section 10 of the Bill provides that the salaries, allowances, and service conditions of the CEC and ECs will be the same as those of the Cabinet Secretary, a change from the requirements of the 1991 Act.

Concerns of Various Kinds Raised

  • Autonomy of the Election Commission: There are concerns about the composition of the selection panel, which includes a Cabinet Minister selected by the Prime Minister rather than the CJI.
  • Unanimous Decisions: Suggestions for unanimous committee decisions are intended to resolve concerns about one-sided decision-making.
  • Critics believe that the Bill breaches democratic values and is therefore unconstitutional.
  • Contrary Supreme Court Decision: The Bill deviates from the Supreme Court’s decision on the significance of an independent committee in selecting Election Commissioners.
  • Past Electoral Integrity: Despite government involvement in Election Commissioner appointments, some say Indian elections have been mostly fair.
  • Concerns have been made about the Commission’s decision-making consistency regarding Model Code of Conduct infractions.
  • Timing of Election Announcements: Concerns have been raised concerning the timing of election announcements in relation to government programmes, prompting concerns about political interference.

@the end

  • Balancing Reforms: The Bill demonstrates efforts to reform election administration, but it raises issues about the independence of the Election Commission and its equivalency to Supreme Court judges.
  • The ongoing debate illustrates the evolving process of selecting Election Commissioners, with the goal of ensuring fair and transparent appointments while preserving the institution’s autonomy.
And get notified everytime we publish a new blog post.