The Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill is a law passed by the Rajya Sabha on December 12, 2023. It outlines the rules for appointing, setting conditions for service and determining the term of office for the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners in the future.
The Union Law Minister, Arjun Ram Meghwal, explained in the Rajya Sabha that the bill for selecting the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners was created based on a direction from the Supreme Court. He emphasized that, until now, there were no specific laws guiding these appointments, and the new bill aims to make the process transparent. The minister denied the Opposition's claim that the Supreme Court was being excluded from the selection process.
The Law Minister mentioned that the 1991 Act lacked a specific clause for appointing the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners. Previously, the government decided on their names, but now a search and selection committee will oversee this process to bring more fairness and transparency. The president appoints the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs) based on recommendations from a selection committee. This committee includes the prime minister, a union cabinet minister, and the leader of the opposition or the leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha.
“A clause related to protection from initiation of legal proceedings against the CEC and ECs for actions taken while carrying out their duties has also been introduced through the Bill.” he said.
The Opposition wanted to send the Bill to a special committee, but the House rejected this idea. The Opposition, especially Congress general secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala, raised concerns, saying the Bill goes against the Indian Constitution.
“It completely negates and subjugates the Election Commission to the authority of the Executive and it does away willingly, maliciously the judgment of the Supreme Court, and that is why this law is per se like a stillborn child. An independent appointment mechanism would guarantee eschewing of even the prospect of bias .... this is what this government is afraid of. I’m saying it with a sense of responsibility, for they don’t want an independent Election Commission, CEC and EC. They want a pocket borough. He said adding that the process was arbitrary, the intent was malicious, and the result was disastrous. “That is what is going to happen." - Mr. Surjewala
The salary and service conditions for the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs) were changed to match those of the Cabinet Secretary, moving away from the earlier alignment with a Supreme Court judge's salary. Now, the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners will have a status similar to Supreme Court judges, receiving comparable salaries and benefits.