This article is written by Ritika Sharma, a student of Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies. In this article, the author explains about the Election Commission of India, its historical background, the powers and functions of the same.
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt
Elections are a crucial aspect of a country. It becomes more important when the country is democratic and tends to follow the path of representative government. India claims to be the world’s largest democracy. It has a written Constitution which is the lengthiest Constitution of the world. No other country has that elaborative and bulkiest Constitution as that of India. Democracy is not just a term but is the very spirit of India. Elections are the only instrument which can be used to uphold the democratic principles of India. Hence, being a weapon which is used to test the accountability of the officials, the elections are being regulated and administered by the autonomous and independent body named the Election Commission of India. The Election Commission is the constitutional body which is solely responsible for supervising, conducting and administrating the entire process of the elections in India in order to maintain the sanctity of the Constitution of India. The Election Commission of India is a highly authoritative and decisive in matters of Elections, however, it can be challenged in courts as nothing is above the Constitution of India. The elections are confined to a particular process and it is important to follow a specific format in order to have elections conducted in India. It is important to understand the historical background, composition and power and functions of the body which is responsible for the maintenance of the democracy in the country.
As defined by the Preamble of the Constitution, India is a Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic which came into existence as modern Indian nation state on 15th August 1947 with the following the process of dreadful partition. Elections have been the part and parcel of the democratic process in the country since then. Free and fair elections have been conducted on regular intervals in accordance with the principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution, Electoral systems and laws. The Election Commission was established on 25th January 1950 in accordance with the Constitution of India and the Golden Jubilee of the same has been celebrated in 2001. Originally the commission consisted of only Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners. The theme that the Election Commission of India adopted in celebrating its Diamond Jubilee in 2010 was ‘Greater Participation for Stronger Democracy’, thus, demonstrating the major aspect of democracy that is participation of the citizens of the country itself. The ECI has evolved from time to time and has been questioned a lot of times. It has been the most crucial body for making sure that the elections are being conducted in a manner which is not violative of Constitutional principles.
Composition of ECI: Appointment, Tenure and Removal of Election Commissioners
The composition of Election Commission of India has been defined in Article 324(2) as follows:
“The Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of the other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix and the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf by Parliament, be made by the President.”
Initially, there was only a Chief Election Commissioner, however, it currently consists of Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners. It was for the first time when on 16th October 1989 two additional Commissioners and they had a very short tenure till 1st January 1990. Later on 1st October 1993, two additional Election Commissioners were appointed. Thus the concept of multi-member became operational since then with a decision making power by majority vote.
The Chief Election Commissioner can also act as the Chairman of the Election Commission when any other Election Commissioner in accordance to the provision of Article 324(3). Also, the President can also appoint after consultation with the Election Commission such Regional Commissioners as he may necessary to assist the Commission for the performance of the functions conferred on the Commission before each general election to the House of People and to the Legislative Assembly of each State.
The tenure of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners is for six years or up to the age of 65 years whichever is earlier. The salary and perks which are available to the Judges of the Supreme Court of India is the one which is being received by the Commissioners. The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from the office only by the process of impeachment by the Parliament of which the process is similar to that of the impeachment of the judge of the Supreme Court. There are also two or three Deputy Election Commissioners and Director Generals who are the senior-most officers who are vested with the task of assisting the Commission. They are the ones who are usually appointed from the National Civil Service of the country itself.
In the leading case of S.S. Dhanoa v. Union of India and Ors, It was held that the commission as envisaged by the Constitution is completely an independent institution and has to function in accordance with the same and the termination of the services is not open to the challenge on the ground of any illegality. Also, the question of whether the body should be multi-member or not is answered lawfully in the case. In T.N. Seshan, Chief Election Commissioner of India v. Union of India, the observations made in S.N. Dhanoa’s case were held to be incorrect and hence the judgment was overruled. It was held that when the Constitution makers have provided for a multi-member Election Commission they were not at all oblivious of the fact that there cannot be an agreement on all points and hence the clash of egos should not hinder the high-ranking functionaries to resolve the differences.
Powers and Functions Vested in the Commission
The powers and the function of the Election have been defined in Article 324(1) as follows:
“the superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and to the Legislature of every State and of elections to the offices of President and Vice President held under this Constitution shall be vested in a Commission.”
This clearly means that the Election Commission has been vested with the task of not only supervising the way elections are being conducted but it should also ensure that preparation of the electoral roll is done in the manner that it is up to date and the elections are being held in a free and fair manner. The Election Commission is entitled with the following powers:
- The Commission has administrative powers. It can decide the territorial area of the electoral constituencies in the entire country on the basis of the Delimitation Commission Act of the Parliament of India. This means that the delimitation of territories has to be done accordingly.
- The Election Commission has to organize and amend the electoral roll periodically and have to get all the qualified voters registered.
- The Commission has to inform the dates and the entire schedules of the election and has to scrutinize the nomination papers.
- In order to ensure that free and fair elections take place, the Election Commission is vested with the responsibility of granting recognition to the political parties and allotting the election symbol to them.
The functions which are being performed are as follows:
- The Election Commission is empowered with the task of ensuring that the elections so held should be free, fair and reasonable.
- It is empowered to perform the crucial function of issuing the Model Code of Conduct in every election for the political parties and the candidates in order to maintain the decorum of the democracy.
- The political parties are regulated and registered for being eligible to contest elections by the Election Commission.
- The Election Commission publishes the allowed limits of campaign expenditure per candidate to all the political parties and also performs the monitoring functions as well.
- The Election lays down adult suffrage as the basis of the elections to the Lok Sabha and to the Legislative Assemblies of the States.
- The courts cannot intervene in the matters of election according to Article 329 of the Constitution; however, the Election can be challenged in the court.
In the landmark judgment of the case Election Commission of India v. Mohd. Abdul Ghani, it was held that a mandamus cannot be issued to the Election Commission to perform an exercise forbidden by law. Hence, any function which is forbidden by law cannot be enforced upon the Commission that it should be performed by it.
In R. Unnikrishna Pillai v. Anto Antony Punnathaniyil, it was held that when the election is sought to be set aside only on the ground that respondent did not disclose in the affidavit the details of the property which were already transferred by the respondent himself and his wife earlier to the issuance of the notification of the election, the election cannot be set aside o that ground. If so happens, the proceedings with the election petition will only result in the unnecessary waste of the judicial time as the election cannot be set aside on the alleged ground.
In Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms and another, it was held that a candidate has to furnish all the particulars and the decision and direction of the case were also held valid and maintainable in the case of People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India. In Mani C. Kappan v. K.M. Mani, it was held that the debt he allegedly owes to the Tourism Department is no ground to set aside the election and the election petition does not therefore disclose any cause of the action to be tried.
In Election Commission of India v. St. Mary’s School & Ors, it was held that teachers should not ordinarily be put on duty of election work on teaching days and within the teaching hours. The non- teaching staff, however, may be put on such duties on any day or at any time, if permissible in law.
In Babbu Lal Marandi v. The Speaker Jharkhand Vidhan Sabha and Ors., it was held that the election has to be held only as per the schedule which has been notified by the Election Commission and if anybody gets aggrieved by the decision, he is free to challenge the same as per the law.
Independence of the Election Commission
The independence of the Election Commission is the major concern in today’s time and it has been challenged from time to time extensively. The major issue that arises is that the Constitution has not explicitly defined the qualification pertaining to the legal, administrative and judicial education the members of the Election Commission and also the retired commissioners are not being debarred from any other appointments further which again lead to certain sort of biases. there arises a constant need of bringing the social reforms in order to make the commission even more accountable and independent of any extraordinary pressures of performing the tasks which benefits the other side. It is important to note that the salary and allowances of the officers are not being paid from Consolidated Funds.
It has been clearly observed that in order to take charge of the elections, the Election Commission is envisaged to be the only autonomous body to ensure that they take place in a complete fair manner. However, it has often been observed that the Commission has been often alleged to have been engaged in malpractice of the voting machines from time to time. It becomes important to note that if a body of this sort is being empowered with the task of dealing with the whole procedure of elections; it should be respected, keeping in mind the Constitutional validity of the same.
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