EC Appointment

EC Appointment: Why The System Needs Reforms | UnBreak the News with Prema Sridevi | Ep: 106

Can the Election Commissioner be appointed at the discretion of the government in power? If yes, then does it not compromise the independence and neutrality of the Election Commission of India? Here’s the latest episode of UnBreak the News with Prema Sridevi!
First Published: Nov 29,2022 06:04PM

Last Updated on November 29, 2022

 

Arun Goel, a former Punjab cadre 1985 batch IAS officer, took voluntary retirement as the Secretary, Ministry of Heavy Industries, and a day later, he was appointed as the Election Commissioner. Soon, a controversy brewed over the appointment of Goel. Questions were asked about the cause behind the tearing hurry in the appointment of the Election Commissioner.

The Supreme Court, too, asked the government why the file related to the appointment of the Election Commissioner moved superfast with a tearing urgency. Can the Election Commissioner be appointed at the discretion of the government in power? If yes, then does it not compromise the independence and neutrality of the Election Commission of India? Prema Sridevi UnBreaks this News for you!

(Produced below are the abridged version of the transcripts of the video explainer from Episode: 106 | UnBreak the News with Prema Sridevi | Title: EC Appointment: Why The System Needs Reforms)

Arun Goel, a former Punjab cadre 1985 batch IAS officer, took voluntary retirement as the Secretary of Ministry of Heavy Industries, and a day later, he was appointed as the Election Commissioner. Soon, a controversy brewed over the appointment of Goel. Questions were asked about the cause behind the tearing hurry in the appointment of the Election Commissioner.

The Supreme Court, too, asked the government why the file related to the appointment of the Election Commissioner moved superfast with a tearing urgency. Can the Election Commissioner be appointed at the discretion of the government in power? If yes, then does it not compromise the independence and neutrality of the Election Commission of India? Let’s UnBreak this News!

Arun Goel, a former Punjab cadre IAS officer of the 1985 batch, was scheduled to retire as the Secretary of the Ministry of Heavy Industries on December 31. But just six weeks before his superannuation, Goel took Voluntary Retirement from Service. His VRS was approved on November 18, and just a day later, he was appointed as the Election Commissioner. Soon the appointment of the Election Commissioner came under the lens of the Supreme Court of India. The top court grilled the Modi government over the “tearing hurry” in its decision over the appointment of Goel as the Election Commissioner.

After inspecting the official files regarding the appointment of Arun Goel, the apex court said that this appointment was made with “lightning speed”, a procedure that took less than 24 hours. The court asked the government whether there was any “tearing urgency” to fill the position. The top court told the government that this was a violation of Section 6 of the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, of 1991.

The Court told the government that Arun Goel took voluntary retirement from service in a single day. His file was cleared by the law ministry in a single day. When a panel of four names were put across before the Prime Minister, Goel’s name was cleared within a single day. What was the urgency? The court asked when there was a vacancy on May 15 for the post of the Election Commissioner; the entire process was delayed till November 18, and then it was suddenly put on a superfast track mode. The Apex Court made it clear that the man who becomes the Election Commissioner cannot be a “Yes Man” of the government in power. The bench questioned the independence of the appointment process of the Election Commissioner.

The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering Union and State election processes. The Election Commission of India also administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies in India and the offices of the President and Vice President. So, can the appointment of the Election Commissioners and the Chief Election Commissioner be made at the whims and fancies of the government in power? If yes, will it not impact the free and fair conduct of elections and thereby compromise the very foundations of our democracy? The top court was of the view that setting up a model of how the Election Commissioners and Chief Election Commissioner are appointed is a much-needed step.

At the moment, the Election Commissioners are appointed by the President on the advice of the Central government. Several pleas in the Supreme Court are challenging this very system and are demanding a collegium of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India to select the member for the post instead of leaving it to the government. In the absence of this, the concerns are that the executive will growingly influence the Election Commission.

Former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi writes in an article for a newspaper: “The root of the problem lies in the flawed system of appointment of the Election Commissioners. They are appointed unilaterally by the government of the day. It’s important to recall B R Ambedkar’s statement to the Constituent Assembly that “the tenure can’t be made a fixed and secure tenure if there is no provision in the Constitution to prevent a fool or a naive or a person who is likely to be under the thumb of the executive.”

Quraishi, in his article, also addresses the problem of uncertainty over the elevation of an Election Commissioner to the post of the CEC, which makes him vulnerable to government pressure. He writes: “They consider themselves on probation, always conscious of how their conduct is viewed by the government, which can exploit this fear. Since all three members have equal voting rights and all decisions in the commission are taken by the majority, the government can even control an independent-minded CEC through the majority voting power of the two Election Commissioners.”

India is the world’s largest democracy. India runs the biggest elections in the world. Conducting free and fair elections is the cornerstone of our democracy. Can we boast of being the largest democracy if our Election Commission’s neutrality and independence are compromised?

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