The Election Commission of India-an Overview

Context:

  • A petition was filed in the Supreme Court pointing out the vagueness in the procedure for removal of Election Commissioners.
  • The petitioner added that the ambiguity on the removal procedure of the Election Commissioners might affect the functional independence of the Election Commission.

What is Election Commission of India?

  • The Election Commission was established in 1950.
  • It is a permanent and an independent body established by the Constitution of India directly to ensure free and fair elections in the country.
  • Article 324 of the Constitution provides that the power of superintendence, direction and control of elections to parliament, state legislatures, the office of president of India and the office of vice-president of India shall be vested in the election commission.
  • The Commission is an all India body having jurisdiction over elections to Parliament, State Legislatures, offices of the president and Vice-President.

What is the composition of Election Commission of India?

  • Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners: The President appoints Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
  • They have tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • They enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India.
  • The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through impeachment by Parliament.
  • Two-thirds of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha need to vote against him for disorderly conduct or improper actions.
  • Regional commissioners: The president may also appoint after consultation with the election commission such regional commissioners as he may consider necessary to assist the election commission.
  • State level: At the state level, the election work is supervised, subject to overall superintendence, direction and control of the Commission, by the Chief Electoral Officer of the State.
  • District and constituency levels: At the district and constituency levels, the District Election Officers, Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers, who are assisted by a large number of junior functionaries, perform election work.

What are the powers and functions of Election Commission of India?

  • The powers and functions of the Election Commission with regard to elections to the Parliament, state legislatures and offices of President and Vice-President can be classified into three categories:

1) Administrative:

  • The commission has the powers to function in accordance to the Delimitation Commission Act of the Parliament.
  • It can decide the territorial boundaries of the electoral constituencies.
  • It has the powers to register or deregister a political party.
  • It enforces the ‘Model Code of Conduct’ and ensures the implementation of it.
  • It keeps a check on the election expenses of the political parties to ensure a level playing field for all the political parties irrespective of their size and thus the capacity to spend.

2) Advisory:

  • The Commission has the powers to advise the President of India regarding the disqualifications of the members of Parliament.
  • The Commission also advises the Governor with respect to the disqualifications of members of the State Legislature.
  • It advises the High Court / Supreme Court in matters related to post election disputes.
  • It advises the president whether elections can be held in a state under president’s rule in order to extend the period of emergency after one year.

3) Quasi-Judicial

  • The Election Commission has the powers to settle disputes with respect to the recognition granted to the political parties.
  • It is also authorised to act as a court for matters related to disputes arising out of allotment of election symbols to the political parties.
  • It can request the president or the governor for requisitioning the staff necessary for conducting elections.

What is the significance of Election Commission in the context of Indian democracy?         

  • In democracy elections play a vital role because during the elections they create consciousness among the voters.
  • Elections usher in awakening in society, impart political educations and bring about national unity.
  • Elections provide a way for the citizens of India to choose their leaders which ensures the fact that the will of the people is reflected in the elected candidates.
  • Election is a device which a modern state creates amongst its citizens a sense of involvement and participation in public affairs.
  • Most importantly, the vote of the citizens serves to emphasis the importance for a democratic state of seeing the fact that the power to form a government ultimately rests on their hands.

What are the loopholes in the functioning of the election commission?

  • The Constitution has not prescribed the qualifications (legal, educational, administrative or judicial) of the members of the Election Commission.
  • The Constitution has not specified the term of the members of the Election Commission.
  • The Constitution has not debarred the retiring election commissioners from any further appointment by the government.
  • Even though the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners enjoy the same decision-making powers, however, Article 324(5) does not provide similar protection to the Election Commissioners.

What are the recent reforms in the Election Commission of India (ECI)?

  • Electronic Voting Machine: Since there were clear evidences of booth capturing and problems in counting votes, the Election Commission of India introduced Electronic Voting Machines.
  • The machines are to bring transparency and minimum human discretion in the voting process.
  • Code of Conduct: The ECI formulated code of conduct when the election dates are announced, co-ordinates with administrative machinery to strictly enforce the do’s and don’ts in elections to ensure a transparent voting.
  • None of the Above(NOTA): Recently introduced, NOTA has been mentioned in electoral voting machine to not chose any candidate mentioned in the machine ,thereby giving citizen right to reject.
  • Amendments to the Representation of People’s Act: The Election Commission is preparing a proposal seeking an amendment to Section 58A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which empowers to adjourn or cancel elections on the ground of booth-capturing.

Other reforms proposed by Election Commission of India over the years:

De-criminalization of politics:

  • For preventing persons with criminal background from becoming legislators, the Commission has made a proposal for disqualifying (from contesting election) a person against whom charges have been framed by a Court for an offence punishable by imprisonment of 5 years or more.
  • Under the existing law (ROP Act, 51) there is a disqualification once a person is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment of two years or more (in the case of certain offences mentioned in sub-sections (1) of Section-8, conviction itself leads to disqualification, even without any sentence of imprisonment).
  • The Commission’s proposal is for disqualification even prior to conviction, provided the court has framed charges.
  • As a precaution against foisting false cases on the eve of election, it has been suggested that only those cases in which charges are framed six months prior to an election should be taken into account for that election.

 Political parties reforms:

  • The Commission has suggested that legal provisions be made to regulate the functioning of political parties and the Commission should be empowered to regulate registration as well as de-registration of political parties.
  • The political parties should be legally required to get their accounts audited annually. The audited accounts should be put in public domain. There should be transparency in the fund raising and expenditure of political parties..
  • Income tax exemption for donations should be given only for those political parties which contest election and win seats in the Parliament/State Legislature.

Misuse of religion for electoral gain:

  • A Bill was introduced in the LokSabha in 1994 [R.P. (second amendment) Bill,1994], whereby an amendment was proposed providing for provision to question before a High Court, acts of misuse of religion by political parties. The Bill lapsed on the dissolution of the LokSabha in 1996. The Commission has proposed thatthe provision in that Bill should be considered again..

Amendment of law to make `paidnews’ an electoral offence:

  • The Commission has been proposed amendment in the Representation of People Act, 1951, to provide therein that publishing and abetting the publishing of `paid news’ for furthering the prospect of election of any candidate or for prejudicially affecting the prospect of election of any candidate be made an electoral offence with punishment of a minimum of two years imprisonment.

 Punishment for electoral offences to be enhanced:

  • Undue influence and bribery at elections are electoral offences under Sections 171B and 171C, respectively, of the IPC. These offences are non-cognizable offences, with punishment provision of one year’s imprisonment, or fine, or both.
  • Under Section 171-G, publishing false statement in connection with election with intent to affect the result of an election, is punishable with fine only.

Government sponsored advertisements:

  • For six months prior to the date of expiry of the term of the House, there should be a ban on advertisements on achievements of the Government.
  • Advertisements/dissemination of information on poverty alleviation and health related schemes could be exempted from the ban.

Prohibition of Campaign during the Last 48 Hours:

  • Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, prohibits electioneering activities by way of public meetings, public performance, processions, advertisements through cinematograph, television or similar apparatus during the period of 48 hours before the time fixed for conclusion of poll. However, this Section does not include print media.
  • The Commission has proposed that Section 126 should apply equally to the print media also. • The Commission has further proposed that house to house visits by candidates/supporters should also be specifically prohibited during the period of 48 hours, to allow the electors period of tranquil to decide their option. Necessary amendments should be carried out in Section 126.

Punishment for false affidavit by candidates:

  • Section -125A of R.P. Act, 51, provides that furnishing false information in the affidavit filed by the candidate is an offence punishable by imprisonment upto six months or with fine.
  • There is no clear provision for follow-up action in the event of candidates filing false affidavits.
  • There are several complaints of false statements in affidavits, false statements mislead the electors.
  • In order to strengthen the disclosure provision, the Commission has recommended that Section-125A of R.P. Act, 51, should be amended to provide that any complaint regarding false statement in the affidavit filed by the candidates in connection with the nomination paper shall be filed before the Returning Officer (RO) concerned within a period of 30 days from the date of declaration of the election and that it shall be the responsibility of the RO to take proper follow-up action Alternatively, complaint can lie directly to the Magistrate Court.

Negative/neutral voting:

  • In the ballot paper and on the ballot unit, after the particulars relating to the last candidate, there should be provisions for a column `none of the above’ to enable a voter to reject all candidates if he sodesires.

Amendment of law to provide for filing of election petition even against defeated candidates on the ground of corrupt practice:

  • As per the existing law, election petition (EP) can be filed only for challenging an election of the returned candidate (winner).
  • If a defeated candidate has indulged in corrupt practice, there is no provision for election petition against such candidate.
  • Commission has recommended that the law should be amended to provide for filing of EP in cases of commission of corrupt practice by a losing candidate as well.

Ban on transfer of election officers on the eve of election:

  • In the case of general election, there should be a ban against transferring any election related officer without the concurrence of the Commission for a period of six months prior to the expiry of the term of the House.

 Rule making authority to be vested in the Commission:

  • The Commission should be given the power to frame rules under the R.P. Act, 1950 and

Totalizer for counting of votes:

  • The proposal is for amendment of the Rules to provide for the use of totalizer for counting of votes at EVM elections.
  • Using totalizer , it would be possible to take out the results of votes polled in a group of 14 EVMs together as against the present practice of counting votes polling station wise.
  • In such a system of counting, the trend of voting in individual polling station areas would not be known. This will prevent intimidation and  post election victimization of electors.
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