Activists raise concern over Election Commissioners appointment Bill

Activists say inclusion of a Cabinet Minister, instead of the CJI, would lead to the selection committee being controlled by the government; they also raise concerns over the law not being in tune with the recent Supreme Court order

Updated - September 18, 2023 06:51 am IST

Published - September 17, 2023 09:12 pm IST - New Delhi

 A view of Election Commission of India, in New Delhi. File

A view of Election Commission of India, in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

On the eve of the Special Session of Parliament which will take up the contentious Bill relating to appointment of Election Commissioners (ECs), activists and civil society members raised questions over autonomy of the poll body, if the legislation is passed.

The Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in the Monsoon Session, proposes that the selection panel for appointing the Election Commission, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), and other ECs, will consist of the Prime Minister as the chairperson, the Leader of the Opposition as a member, and a Union Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister as another member. In March, the Supreme Court had ruled that the selection panel should comprise the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Chief Justice of India (CJI). However, the apex court had said that this procedure would be followed, only till the Parliament enacts a law.

Questions have been raised over the fact that the inclusion of a Cabinet Minister instead of the CJI would lead to the selection committee being controlled by the government.

According to S.Y. Quraishi, former CEC, a major downside of the proposed Bill was that the committee was one-sided and a way to address this “was to make all its decisions unanimous”.

“This would in no way mean giving veto powers to the Leader of Opposition as there is a search committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary which would give a list of shortlisted names to the selection committee and those names would have been vetted by government,” he said participating in a webinar organised by non-governmental organisations Satark Nagarik Sangathan and ANHAD.

Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan maintained that the law was unconstitutional, and in his view, could be struck down by the Supreme Court. “It can be challenged on the ground that it violates democracy”.

“It was expected that the law made by Parliament would be in tune with the Supreme Court judgment. The CJI has been removed and replaced by a Cabinet Minister appointed by the Prime Minister. So Leader of Opposition is in a minority and the government can select the ECs,” he said.

He said that the apex court had observed that independence of the Election Commission also comes from the process of selection of commissioners and it should be done by an independent committee.

Political analyst Sanjay Kumar said that though the Bill does raise some anxieties about independence of the commission, it is also a fact that before the Supreme Court ruling, the government could essentially decide who to appoint as the CEC and ECs and Indian elections have till now been free and fair.

“I don’t think this change alone will lead to an end to free and fair elections. Largely elections have been free and fair. I don’t buy this argument that entire elections are managed,” he said.

Mr. Kumar though raised concerns over issues such as the Commission taking contrasting decisions on violations of Model Code of Conduct by Opposition and ruling parties, and announcement of election dates in tandem with government programmes.

Former CEC Mr. Quraishi also listed some positive aspects of the Bill, like fixing of qualifications for ECs.

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