New Delhi: The Election Commission of India, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, has asked for an amendment in the Constitution seeking protection for the Election Commissioners from removal at the behest of the Chief Election Commissioner and rule-making power to “remain insulated from political pressure”.
The EC was on Thursday replying to a notice issued after BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay filed a plea in the SC last year seeking more protection for Election Commissioners. In its reply, the EC has said that Article 324(5) of the Constitution should be amended so that similar protection is granted to the other Election Commissioners like the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) who can be removed only like a Supreme Court judge.
Upadhyay had filed a plea seeking not only similar protection for all Election Commissioners, but also sought an independent secretariat for the EC and the authority to make rules on the Election Commission of India.
In its reply to the court, the EC has stated that it supports the idea of bringing a Constitutional amendment and has been asking for it since 1998 so that the removal process of Election Commissioners are not just left to the discretion of the CEC, but is instead made similar to the removal procedure of an SC judge.
“The present Constitutional guarantee is inadequate and requires an amendment to provide the same protection and safeguard in the matter of removability of Election Commissioners as is available to the Chief Election Commissioner,” reads the EC affidavit.
According to Article 324(5), the CEC enjoys the same protection as an SC judge who can be removed after a motion is passed in either of the two Houses of the Parliament and is subject to the Presidential assent.
However, both the Election Commissioners have no such protection and Article 324(5) of the Constitution provides that they can be removed on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner.
EC has replied that it has been asking for the amendment since 1998. The proposal was again reiterated in July 2004 when the EC sent 22 proposals on electoral reforms to the government, which was referred to the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee (RS) on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice for examination by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha in 2005.
The commission again said the same to the Prime Minister in January 2010 while another request for the intervention was made in 2012. This was followed by a list of 47 proposals for electoral reforms, sent on December 2016.
Upadhyay had also sought for a direction to the Union government to ask them to take appropriate steps in order to provide an independent secretariat to the EC and declare its expenditure as charged on the consolidated fund of India on the lines of the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha secretariat.
The commission, supporting the said contention, has stated, “EC had first urged the Central government to ensure an independent secretariat for the Election commission of India on the lines of the Lok Sabha secretariat and also to ensure that the expenditure of the election commission is charged on the consolidated fund of India.”
EC is also of the opinion that “a changed budget would be a symbol of the independence of the commission and will secure its unconstrained functioning”.
This, the commission has based on the reasoning that the EC, entrusted with the task of conducting elections throughout the country, be “fully insulated” from political pressure or executive interference “to maintain the purity of elections, inherent in a democratic process”.
The poll watchdog has also further asked for a rule-making power under the Representation of the People Act, 1950 and the Representation of the People Act, 1951, saying it “should be conferred on the Election commission, instead of on the central government”, who should, however, be consulted by the Election Commission while framing any rule.