ANI Photo | New Bill would lower status of CEC, ECs, say Opposition leaders in Rajya Sabha

Opposition members in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday said that the bill to regulate the appointment, conditions of service and term of office of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners if passed, would lower the status of the CEC and ECs.
Aam Aadmi Party Rajya Sabha MP Raghav Chadha alleged that the Centre through the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, is attempting to overturn the Supreme Court’s March 2 order, while Trinamool Congress MP Jawahar Sircar said that in the new bill ‘the status of CEC and EC is being deliberately lowered’.
The bill was later passed by the Rajya Sabha, while the Opposition walked out of the proceedings after marking its objection to the proposed law.
The bill replaces the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991. Earlier, the bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on August 10 this year.
As per the Bill, the CEC and ECs will be appointed by the President upon the recommendation of a Selection Committee, which will consist of the Prime Minister, a Union Cabinet Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition or leader of the largest opposition party in Lok Sabha.
A total of 26 members participated in the heated debate.
Congress MP Randeep Singh Surjewala said that as a Union Cabinet Minister in the Selection Committee will be selected by Prime Minister, who is also in the committee, then there will be a majority of two members.
He said that an executive exclusively cannot appoint a Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners and second, it cannot be done without an ‘objective yardstick’.
Citing SC’s order in the Anoop Baranwal vs Union of India case on March 2, 2023, he said, “The apex court said the executive alone being involved in the appointment, ensures that the commission becomes and remains a partisan body and a branch of the executive. The independence of the commission is intimately interlinked with the process of appointment. The Election Commissioners including the CEC blessed with nearly infinite powers and who are to abide by the Fundamental Rights must be chosen not by the executive exclusively and particularly without any objective yardstick.”
“It means two things are clear in this judgment: first the CEC and ECs must be at arm’s length from the government and second, the process has to be beyond influence or under the diktat of the executive of the day,” he added.
Jawahar Sircar, TMC MP said that in the new bill, the status of CEC and EC is being ‘deliberately’ lowered from that of a judge to that of a Cabinet Secretary. “Second, the appointment really boils down to that of Prime Minister and his ministers,” he said.
Sircar went on to add that in clause 6 of the bill it is given that a Search Committee will be conducted by the Cabinet Secretary. “Fair enough…and then in clause 7, they say after the search committee has given names it will be decided by a selection committee, consisting of the Prime Minister, his own minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The results are known. Why go through this?”
“The more dangerous is clause 8…(which) actually says that any person can be appointed as CEC and EC. What a dangerous precedent you are opening. This is a job where I have mentioned some of the dimensions, where I have said we have 10 lakh polling stations. It’s is an administrative job and we know what administration is,” he added.
Opposing the bill, AAP MP Raghav Chadha alleged that through this legislation, the Centre wants to take control of the Election Commission ‘completely’.
Stating that the Election Commission is an important institution for a free and fair election in this country, Chadha said, “This bill is going to destroy one of the few remaining independent institutions in India. i.e., Election Commission and thereby dislodge free and fair elections in India.”
He further alleged that the Centre through this bill is attempting to overturn the Supreme Court’s March 2 order. “Which stated that there should not be any interference from the government in the appointment of the Election Commission,” he said.
“To end this, we constitute a committee, in which the Chief Justice is replaced with a Cabinet Minister. So that a system should be created in which the person who they want will become the Chief Election Commissioner,” Chadha argued during the debate.
Earlier today, while moving the bill for its consideration and passage, Meghwal said that the legislation has been brought in response to the Supreme Court’s March 2, 2023, order.
“This bill was introduced in this House on 10 August 2023, replacing the (earlier) Act of 1991. In that, other things were fine but there was no provision for an appointment. And you are aware that on March 2, 2023, while hearing a PIL, gave a judgment, (which states) until the Parliament makes a law in consonance with Article 324(2) of the Constitution. So in pursuance of this decision, the government has brought this bill,” he had said.
Moreover, as per the bill, the salary and conditions of service of the CEC and ECs will be equivalent to that of the Cabinet Secretary. Under the 1991 Act, it was equivalent to the salary of a Supreme Court judge.
The selection process of the Election Commission may be dominated by the government, which has implications for its independence.
Accepting the Selection Committee’s recommendations in spite of a vacancy in its constitution may effectively lead to a monopoly of government members in selecting candidates.
Making the CEC and EC’s salary equivalent to the Cabinet Secretary may lead to government influence as it is fixed by the government. This is unlike the salary of a Supreme Court judge, which is fixed through an Act of Parliament.
CECs and ECs also perform quasi-judicial functions. Limiting these posts to senior bureaucrats may exclude other suitable candidates

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