TAG: GS 2: POLITY
THE CONTEXT: The central government introduced a Bill seeking to amend the service conditions of Election Commission of India (ECI) members.
- The Bill was introduced in Parliament on August 10,2023 but was not taken up for discussion in the Monsoon Session.
- It has now been listed for consideration and passing on December 12, along with key amendments that would ‘restore’ the status of the members of the ECI.
Constitutional Background and Supreme Court’s Ruling
- Earlier, the Supreme Court mandated the appointment of CEC and ECs by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, and the CJI.
- This ruling sought to rectify the absence of a specific legislative process for their appointment in the Constitution, thereby giving the central government significant authority in appointing these officials.
Criticism and Concerns Raised
- The proposed Bill received criticism from various quarters, particularly for replacing the CJI in the selection committee with a Cabinet Minister.
- This raised concerns over the government having undue influence in choosing candidates for these crucial positions.
- Former and current officials of the ECI raised objections not merely due to the alteration in perks but primarily because of the perceived downgrading of the ECI’s status from that of a Supreme Court judge to a government official.
- The status change, if implemented, was seen as potentially affecting the ECI’s authority to summon senior officials and Ministers, significantly impacting its ability to function independently.
Amendments and Reversal of Status Change
- Amidst the criticisms, Law Minister proposed amendments to restore the equivalence of the CEC and ECs to that of a Supreme Court judge.
- The amendments aimed to retain the existing salary, dearness allowance, and leave encashment rules for these positions, aligning them with the status quo.
Current Status and Future Appointments
- No appointments have been made through the revised mechanism outlined by the Supreme Court order since no vacancies have emerged in the ECI post the March ruling.
- The upcoming vacancy expected in February 2024, upon the retirement of EC Anup Chandra Pandey, will likely be the first opportunity to apply the mechanism laid down by the court.
- The proposed Bill faced significant opposition due to concerns over the selection process and potential downgrading of the ECI’s status.
- The government’s decision to revert the proposed changes through amendments underscores the importance of maintaining the ECI’s independence and authority, aligning its status with that of a Supreme Court judge.