The central government of India has recently introduced a bill in the Rajya Sabha that aims to modify the process of appointing the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners of the country. The proposed bill includes significant changes to the composition of the selection committee responsible for these appointments.
Exclusion of Chief Justice of India from the Selection Panel
One of the notable changes proposed by the bill is the removal of the Chief Justice of India from the selection committee that determines the appointments of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners. This alteration is seen as a departure from the previous arrangement and has sparked discussions about the implications for the independence of the Election Commission.
New Composition of the Selection Panel
According to the provisions outlined in the new bill, the selection panel responsible for appointing the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners will now consist of three members:
- Prime Minister: The head of the government, responsible for executive decision-making.
- Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha: A prominent figure representing the opposition parties in the lower house of Parliament.
- Cabinet Minister: A member of the government’s cabinet, entrusted with specific administrative responsibilities.
Background and Rationale
The bill’s introduction follows a significant ruling by the Supreme Court in March, aimed at ensuring the impartiality and autonomy of the Election Commission. Prior to this ruling, appointments to the Election Commission were made based on the government’s recommendations and were ultimately approved by the President.
The Supreme Court’s decision outlined a selection process involving the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India. However, the new bill seeks to redefine this process, emphasizing the roles of the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition, and a Cabinet Minister while omitting the Chief Justice of India.
Criticism and Response
The proposed bill has attracted criticism from various quarters, with the Congress party being particularly vocal in its opposition. The Congress has labeled the bill as an overt attempt to diminish the Election Commission’s autonomy and transform it into a tool controlled solely by the Prime Minister.
The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, has been tabled for consideration in the Rajya Sabha. Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal is spearheading this legislative effort, aiming to “regulate the appointment, conditions of service and term of office of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners, the procedure for transaction of business by the Election Commission and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.