Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2 (Indian Polity)
Mention the constitutional and statutory provisions relevant to the functioning of Election Commission of India. What steps are required to further strengthen the autonomy and effectiveness of this body?
The Election commission is a permanent constitutional body, which was established in accordance with the Constitution in 1950. The commission ensures free and fair elections in India as per the principles enshrined in the Constitution.
Provisions relevant to the functioning of Election Commission
Election commission derives its powers from the Constitution (Part XV) and various laws of the Parliament as discussed below:
- Art. 324:broadly speaks of the functions of EC and its composition.
- Art. 325: there shall be one general electoral roll for every territorial constituency for election to either Houses of Parliament and State legislature. It establishes equality among citizens by affirming that no person shall be ineligible for inclusion in the electoral roll on the grounds of religion, race, caste or sex.
- Art. 326: lays down adult suffrage as the basis of elections to the Lok Sabha and to the Legislative Assemblies of States.
- Art. 327: confers on Parliament the power to make provisions with respect to elections to federal and State Legislatures
- Art. 328: confers on State Legislature the power to make laws with respect to elections to such legislature
- Art. 329: bars interference by courts in electoral matters. Notwithstanding anything said in the constitution i.e. validity of any law relating to the delimitation of constituencies or the allotment of seats to such constituencies shall not be called in question in any court
- Article 324 provides its structure, conditions of service and mandate or superintendence, direction and control of elections to the Parliament, state legislature and the offices of President and Vice President.
- Article 356 provides for ECI’s certification (on whether/ elections can be held) for extending President’s rule in a state beyond one year.
- Representation of People Act, 1951 provides ÉCI With the power to:
- Register political parties and their symbol
- Notify elections schedule and other related details
- Disqualify members for electoral Offences like bribery, Incitement of violence/hatred.
- Advise the President on disqualification of members of Parliament
- Appoint and supervise the administrative machinery for elections.
- Representation of People Act, 1950 — empowers ECI to prepare and revise electoral rolls on a regular
- Delimitation Commission (constituted as per the requirements of Article 82), has Chief Election Commissioner as its ex-officio member.
Model Code of Conduct
- EC first issued a Model Code of Conduct for political parties at the time of the fifth general elections, held in 1971. Since then, the Code has been revised from time to time and lays down guidelines as to how political parties and candidates should conduct themselves during elections.
- A provision was made under the Code that from the time the elections are announced by the Commission, Ministers and other authorities cannot announce any financial grant, make promises of construction of roads, carry out any appointments in government and public undertakings which may have the effect of influencing the voters in favour of the ruling party.
Disclosure of Antecedents by Candidates
- In June 2002, the EC on the direction of the Supreme Court, issued an order under Article 324 that each candidate must submit an affidavit regarding the information of his/her criminal antecedents;
Registration of Political Parties
- The party system is an essential feature of parliamentary democracy. However, there is no direct reference to political parties in the Constitution of India. The statutory law relating to registration of political parties was enacted in 1989 which was quite liberal
Checking Criminalisation of Politics
- The EC has expressed its serious concern over the entry of anti-social and criminal persons into the electoral arena. It has set down norms and made recommendations to the government to curb the menace of criminalization of politics.
Limits on Poll Expenses
- To get rid of the growing influence and vulgar show of money during elections, the EC has fixed legal limits on the amount of money which a candidate can spend during the election campaign.
Independence of the Election Commission
Article 324 of the Constitution has made the following provisions to safeguard and ensure the independent and impartial functioning of the election commission:
- The CEC is provided with the security of tenure. He holds office for a term of 6 years from the date he assumes office or till he attains the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier
- 324(5) says that the CEC cannot be removed from his office except in like manner and on like grounds as a Judge of the Supreme Courti.e. he can be removed by the president on the basis of a resolution passed to that effect by both the Houses of Parliament with special majority, either on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity
- Any other election commissioner or a regional commissioner cannot be removed from office except on the recommendation of the CEC
- The service conditions of the CEC cannot be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment
Steps required to further strengthen the autonomy and effectiveness of this body
Though provisions are made to ensure independency of election commission, still some loop holes are present in the current system. certain other measures are needed to enhance its autonomy and effectiveness including:
- Appointment of CEC and EC should be done in accordance with a law.
- The Constitution has not prescribed the qualifications (legal, educational, administrative or judicial) of the members of the Election Commission.
- There is a need to prescribe qualification and law to appoint CEC and EC
- Retiring member of ECI should not be allowed to take an Office of Profit under State.
- The Constitution has not debarred the retiring election commissioners from any further appointment by the government.
- Retiring members should not be allowed to take an office of profit.
- Election Commissioners should be provided same level of security of tenure as that of Chief Election Commissioner
- The administrative expenses of the EC should be charged on the Consolidated Fund of India
- The administrative expenses of the EC or the salaries, allowances, and pensions of the CEC and ECs are not charged on the Consolidated Fund of India.
- Expansion of powers under RPA to include ‘money power’ as electoral offence and curb the menace of fake news. Currently, the ECI has to resort to the use of extraordinary powers under Article 324.
- Independent secretariat to remove dependence on Department of Personnel Training for appointment of officers.
The ECI has played a critical role as the watchdog of electoral democracy making Indian democratic setup an example that is emulated across the world. Empowerment of ECI will only add to the purity and transparency of the election process.
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