Stating that the Constitution of India has given plenary power to the Election Commission of India (ECI) for conducting free and fair elections, the Karnataka High Court on Tuesday upheld the transfer of eight IAS officers made by the State government on March 27 based on the directions given by the ECI.

For election duty

Setting aside the April 12 order of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) that had stayed the transfer order while terming it a violation of the IAS (Cadre) Rules, the High Court said the change in the posting of these officers cannot be treated as a regular transfer as this order was issued for the purpose of drawing officials for election duty on “deputation” for a limited period.

The court made it clear that the period of “deputation” of those officials posted on the election duty would come to an end with the declaration of the election results and all the officers so deputed would be automatically reverted to their parent organisation.

Tuesday’s order would mean that all the other IAS officers, who were posted as deputy commissioners of the respective districts in place of these eight IAS officers by way of “transfer” for the purpose of conducting elections, would be moved out of the posts soon after declaration of election results, and these eight IAS officers would be reverted to the posts that they were holding prior to March 27.

Petition

A Division Bench comprising Justice N. Kumar and Justice B. Manohar delivered the verdict while allowing the petition filed by the ECI questioning the CAT’s interim finding that the transfer of the eight IAS officers was illegal as they were transferred “prematurely,” before they completed minimum tenure of two years in their respective posts, without consulting the committee on minimum tenure.

The court, however, said the ECI was not bound to follow the IAS (Cadre) Rules as it does not pertain to elections and moreover it does not prescribe about utilisation of IAS officers during elections. Quoting a judgment of the Supreme Court, the High Court said that “in case where law is silent, Article 324 of the Constitution is a reservoir of power for the ECI to act for the avowed purpose of having free and fair election.”

“The IAS (Cadre) Rules is only related to general service conditions of these officers and it does not deal with their service during elections. The ECI exercising its power in conformity with this rule does not arise as the ECI is bound to follow only the election related laws,” the court said.

ECI responsibility

Making it clear that the ECI has the power to direct the government to transfer officials to get officers of its choice on deputation, the court also said that there cannot be any obligation on the part of the ECI to give reasons for transferring officials as the ECI would be doing so for discharging its responsibility of holding free and fair elections to preserve democracy.

The court also made it clear that the direction for transferring these eight officers for conducting free and fair elections could not be construed as any reflection on their integrity and honesty and hence their transfer cannot attach a stigma to their career.

“Just because they were transferred they can’t claim that their rights have been affected,” the court said.

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