The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, passed in the Rajya Sabha, introduces amendments that significantly affect the Election Commission of India’s structure and functioning. These changes have elicited diverse responses across the political spectrum.
Key Amendments in the Bill
1. Immunity for CEC and ECs:
New Provision: Grants immunity to both current and former CECs and ECs from civil or criminal proceedings for their official actions.
Impact: Aimed at bolstering the independence and effectiveness of Election Commission officials.
2. Appointment Process Modification:
Change: The Chief Justice of India (CJI) in the selection panel is replaced by a Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister.
Opposition View: Criticized as a move that potentially compromises the Election Commission’s independence.
3. Removal Procedure for CEC:
Updated Process: The CEC can only be removed in a manner similar to a Supreme Court judge. However, the removal of ECs is contingent upon the recommendation of the CEC.
4. Composition of the Search Committee:
Amendment: The Union Law Minister replaces the Cabinet Secretary as the head of the committee, which also includes two bureaucrats of secretary rank.
5. Salaries and Perks Adjustment:
Adjustment: Salaries and benefits for the CEC and ECs are now aligned with those of a Supreme Court judge.
Political Perspectives and Discussions
Opposition’s Reaction: Major opposition parties have expressed concerns, suggesting the bill is a step back from the principles enshrined in the Constitution.
Government’s Standpoint: Defends the bill as enhancing the functioning and autonomy of the Election Commission.
Parliamentary Sovereignty: The Rajya Sabha Chairman emphasized the supremacy of Parliament in the legislative process, asserting its independence from judicial interpretations.
The amendments in the bill mark a significant shift in the governance of India’s electoral process. While the government views these changes as strengthening the Election Commission, the opposition perceives them as potentially undermining its independence. The alterations, particularly in the appointment and removal processes of the CEC and ECs, have sparked intense debate about the interplay of powers among the different branches of the Indian government.