Election Commission of India (ECI)_00.1
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Election Commission of India (ECI)

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  • GS Paper 2: Indian Constitution – Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.

 

About ECI

  • The ECI 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.

Election Commission of India (ECI)_50.1

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Background

  • ECI was established on 25th January 1950 as per the provisions of the constitution of India.
  • Till 1989, it was a single-member commission which was further expanded to three members by the Election Commissioner Amendment Act 1989.
  • Later in 1990, two posts of Election Commissioners (EC) were abolished but again in 1993, the president appointed two more EC. Since that time, ECI has one CEC and two EC.

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Constitutional provisions

  • Part XV of the Indian constitution: deals with elections, and establishes a commission for these matters.
  • Article 324 to 329 of the constitution: deals with powers, function, tenure, eligibility, etc. of the commission and the member.

 

                                              Articles related to Elections
324 Superintendence, direction, and control of elections to be vested in an Election Commission.
325 No person to be ineligible for inclusion in, or to claim to be included in a special, electoral roll on grounds of religion, race, caste, or sex.
326 Elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assemblies of States to be on the basis of adult suffrage.
327 Power of Parliament to make provision with respect to elections to Legislatures.
328 Power of Legislature of a State to make provision with respect to elections to such Legislature.
329 Bar to interference by courts in electoral matters.

 

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Organizational structure

  • ECI consists of one Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
  • Secretariat: It has a dedicated secretariat located in New Delhi.
  • At the state level, ECI is assisted by the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) who is generally an IAS rank officer.
  • At the constituency level, ECI appoints a Returning Officer and Assistant Returning Officer in consultation with the government of State or Union Territory as the case may be.

 

Appointment and removal

  • Appointment: Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners are to be appointed by the President of India. 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.
  • Removal process:
    • Chief Election Commissioner: S/he is to be removed from office only through a process of removal similar to that of a Supreme Court judge for by Parliament.
    • CEC can be removed from office through a motion adopted by Parliament on grounds of ‘Proved misbehavior or incapacity. Removal requires a special majority of 2/3rd members present and voting supported by more than 50% of the total strength of the house.
    • Other Election Commissioners: they can be removed from the office by the President only on the recommendation of the CEC.

 

Key functions

  • The constitutional duty of the ECI: to ensure that the elections are held in a free and fair manner.
    • For this purpose, it is entrusted with powers and duties to superintends, directs, and controls the conduct of elections.
  • ECI decides the election schedules for the conduct of periodic and timely elections, whether general or bye-elections.
  • It is responsible for granting recognition to political parties & allot election symbols to them along with settling disputes related to it.
  • It is responsible for registering political parties for the purpose of elections and grant them the status of national or state parties on the basis of their poll performance.
  • Advisory jurisdiction: The Commission advises the president (governors in case of the state legislature) on the matters relating to post-election disqualification of sitting members of Parliament.
    • It also advises the president whether elections can be held in a state under the president’s rule in order to extend the period of emergency after one year.
  • Model Code of Conduct (ECI): Issued by the ECI in the election for political parties and candidates so that no one indulges in unfair practice or there is no arbitrary abuse of powers by those in power.

 

Key concerns about ECI

  • Concerns related to independence and partiality: as Constitution does not mention any qualifications for CEC and ECs. This gives scope for favoritism in the appointment process.
  • Lack of security of tenure to Election Commissioners (EC): as the constitution of India provides security of tenure only to CEC and not to the other ECs who can be removed by the recommendation of CEC.
  • Post-retirement appointment by the governor: as the constitution doesn’t bar retiring election commissioners from accepting further job opportunities from the government.
    • This may lead to the government having undue influence in the ECI as it can offer post-retirement opportunities to sitting ECs in exchange for some political favor in the elections.
  • Increasing mistrust and deterioration of faith in the institution of the Election Commission: mainly due to lack of transparency in the selection process of CEC and ECs and removal of the EC.
    • This mistrust has been further intensified due to allegations of EVMs malfunctioning, getting hacked, and not registering votes which corrode the general masses’ trust in the institution.

 

Way forward:

  • Ensuring transparency in the selection process: by forming a collegium headed by the Prime Minister with the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Law Minister and the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha as members (recommended by the 2nd ARC).
    • This collegium should recommend CEC and EC candidates for the consideration of the President.
  • Provide security of tenure to Election Commissioners similar to CECs: by amending the Constitution of India.
  • Provide a cooling-off period for retiring members of the EC to ensure functional autonomy and institutional independence of the ECI.

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