[Editorial] The Collegium Bill- How to make the ECI Credible?

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The government tabled a new bill concerning the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners, drawing significant attention. This legislation comes in the wake of a groundbreaking Supreme Court verdict and has sparked debates regarding the structure and impartiality of the Election Commission’s appointment process.

Background and Current Scenario

Supreme Court’s Landmark Verdict

  • Unanimous Decision: A five-judge constitution bench, led by Justice K M Joseph, provided guidelines for the appointment of CEC and ECs.
    • The panel should consist of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Chief Justice of India (CJI).
    • This setup ensures the independence of the Election Commission through a collegium system.
    • The Court emphasized maintaining the purity of the election process to protect democracy.

New Proposed Bill: A Shift from the Verdict

  • Replacement of CJI: The bill proposes that a Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister should replace the CJI in the selection process.
  • Addition of a Search Committee:
    • Chaired by the Cabinet Secretary.
    • Comprises two other members not below the rank of a government secretary.
    • Tasked with shortlisting five candidates for the Selection Committee’s consideration.

Defining Qualifications for Appointees

  • Appointees should have held a position equivalent to a government secretary. copyright©iasexpress.net
  • They must possess integrity and experience in managing elections.
  • This addition addresses concerns about the absence of specific qualifications for these roles.

Issues of Partisanship and Autonomy

Current Selection System and its Flaws

  • The President appoints CEC and ECs based on the advice of the PM and the Cabinet.
  • Newly appointed officials, irrespective of their background, might face perceptions of partisanship.
  • Their actions, even if taken in good faith, might be seen as biased towards a particular party.
  • A collegium system could enhance the public’s perception of the Commission’s impartiality.

Government’s Stance on CJI Involvement

  • The government labels it as “fallacious” to suggest that they need judiciary assistance for honest selections.
  • The bill’s proposal intends to quell concerns about the executive’s unchecked influence over appointments.

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Importance of Maintaining EC’s Autonomy

Global Trust Deficit in Electoral Institutions

  • Recent data indicates dwindling trust in electoral bodies.
    • Gallup World Poll: Only half of the voters trust the integrity of elections globally.
    • USA (2019): Trust stood at a mere 40%.
  • In India, the Election Commission’s credibility is under scrutiny due to:
    • Allegations of bias.
    • Arbitrary voter name deletions.
    • Ignoring violations of the model code.
  • Reports from the V-Dem Institute indicate a decline in various democratic indicators in India, including the ECI’s autonomy. copyright©iasexpress.net

Collegium Model: Not Without Flaws

  • Though seen as a solution, the collegium model has had its share of criticisms.
    • Past appointments, like those of CBI directors, have raised eyebrows.
    • Doubts exist about the CJI’s knowledge of potential appointees and possible conflicts of interest.

Way Forward

  • Unanimous Verdict for Appointments: To enhance credibility, a unanimous decision should be a precondition for appointments.
  • Limiting Selection to Shortlisted Names: The selection should be confined to names shortlisted by the search committee to prevent potential biases.
  • Protecting Election Commissioners: The bill rightly seeks to shield Election Commissioners from arbitrary removal, equating them with the CEC.
  • Ranking Concerns: The bill reduces the rank of Commissioners, equated with Supreme Court judges since 1991, which needs rectification.

Conclusion

The Election Commission stands as a beacon of India’s democratic ethos. Ensuring its autonomy and credibility is paramount. While the new bill introduces commendable provisions, a few areas demand reconsideration to truly uphold the EC’s stature and the nation’s democratic integrity.

Practice Question for Mains

In light of the recent introduction of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointments, Conditions of Service, Term of Office) Bill, discuss how ECI can be made more credible? (250 words) copyright©iasexpress.net

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