[Answered] Accepting reforms mooted by previous panels will strengthen the Election Commission’s independence. Elaborate.

Introduction: Contextual introduction.
Body: Explain some issues with Election Commission’s independence.  Also write, some reforms mooted by previous panels to strengthen the Election Commission’s independence:Conclusion: Write a way forward.

Article 324 envisaged that the Commission be led by a single CEC (Chief Election Commissioner). The President can appoint more Election Commissioners (ECs). But this is subject to any law made in that behalf by Parliament.

Issues with Election Commission’s independence:

  • Appointments: whether Election Commissioners should be selected by the executive or by a collegium.
  • Providing security: Constitution did not afford the Election Commissioners the same constitutional protection (of removal by impeachment) as is accorded to the Chief Election Commissioner. They might feel they should remain within the ambit favoured by the government.
  • Financial autonomy: At present, the budget of ECI is not charged on Consolidated Fund of India which tends to reduce its independence and autonomy.

Suggested reforms to strengthen the Election Commission’s independence:

  • Dinesh Goswami Committee, 1990: suggested that the Chief Election Commissioner be appointed by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition, and this process should have statutory backing. It applied the same criteria to the appointments of Election Commissioners, along with consultation with the Chief Election Commissioner.
  • National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution: the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners should be appointed on the recommendation of a body comprising the Prime Minister, the Leaders of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
  • 255th Report of the Law Commission: chaired by Justice A.P. Shah, said the appointment of all the Election Commissioners should be made by the President in consultation with a three-member collegium consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition of the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India. It also suggested measures to safeguard Election Commissioners from arbitrary removal, in a manner similar to what is accorded to the Chief Election Commissioner.

Elections are the cornerstone of democracy, and the Election commissioners are crucial to that legitimacy. Therefore, to defend its functional independence, the guardian of elections itself urgently needs structural safeguards.

 

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