The government’s recent listing of the “Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill” for introduction in the Rajya Sabha signifies a crucial step toward safeguarding the autonomy and transparency of the Election Commission of India (ECI). This legislation seeks to regulate the appointment, conditions of service, and term of office for the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other Election Commissioners.
This topic of “The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.
Purpose of the Legislation
The main objectives of the bill are to establish a clear and transparent procedure for the appointment, service conditions, and tenure of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners. It aims to ensure that the appointments are conducted in a manner that upholds integrity, knowledge, and experience related to the management and conduct of elections.
Composition of the ECI
- The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners must fulfill certain criteria to be eligible, including having held posts equivalent to the secretary to the Government of India, displaying integrity, and possessing knowledge and experience in election management.
Search Committee and Selection Process
- The Search Committee, led by the Cabinet Secretary, plays a pivotal role in preparing a panel of five eligible candidates.
- The Selection Committee, comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, and a Cabinet minister nominated by the Prime Minister, is tasked with selecting ECI members. The appointment remains valid even in the presence of vacancies or defects in the committee’s composition.
- The process is transparent and can consider candidates beyond the panel prepared by the Search Committee.
Terms and Salary
- The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners will serve a term of six years or until the age of 65, whichever is earlier.
- Their salary will be equivalent to that of the Cabinet Secretary.
Bill’s Purpose and Impact
- The bill sets up a systematic procedure for the conduct of ECI’s business.
- It repeals the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991, and introduces new business rules aligned with the new Act once passed.
- The transaction of business is aimed at achieving unanimity whenever possible, but in cases of differing opinions, the majority’s viewpoint prevails.
Upholding Supreme Court Verdict
- The bill follows a Supreme Court verdict from March, which aimed to insulate appointments from executive interference.
- The verdict ruled that appointments should be made by the President based on the advice of a Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, and Chief Justice of India.
- The upcoming vacancy in the poll panel, with Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey retiring on February 14 at the age of 65, could influence the timing of the appointment.
- This comes just before the likely announcement of the schedule for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, following a pattern of past parliamentary election announcements in March.
Current Appointment System
- The CEC and ECs are currently appointed by the government under Article 324(2) of the Constitution.
- The Election Commission composition consists of the Chief Election Commissioner and a number of other Election Commissioners fixed by the President.
- The President appoints the CEC and ECs, subject to provisions of law made by the Parliament.