India

A bill to establish a committee to appoint CECs and ECs has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha

While the Supreme Court is hearing petitions seeking reforms in appointing Chief Election Commissioners (CECs) and Election Commissioners (ECs), a private member’s Bill has been introduced in Rajya Sabha that seeks to create a committee headed by the Chief Justice of India to select the ECs.

John Brittas, a CPI(M) member from Kerala, introduced the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2022, on Friday to “amend the Constitution of India to ensure transparency, neutrality, and fairness in the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners” in addition to creating a permanent independent secretariat for the Election Commission.

In an interview with The Sunday Express on Saturday, Brittas reported that he had submitted the Bill to the Rajya Sabha Secretariat about two months before the Supreme Court’s hearing on the election commissioners’ case in November. On November 22, Justice K M Joseph remarked that an appointment committee comprising the Chief Justice of India might be the least intrusive way to appoint ECs.

The court issued an order in which the government was requested to provide details of the process, including the files related to the appointment of Election Commissioner Arun Goel, who had been an IAS officer until taking voluntary retirement on November 18. On the following day, the President appointed him to the position of EC.

According to Brittas, it was a coincidence that his Bill proposed the appointment of ECs by a committee headed by the Chief Justice of India, including the Lok Sabha Speaker and Leader of the Opposition. “This is the most viable option,” he stated. The Election Commission makes a quasi-judicial decision. “It is one of the most vital bodies for the survival of democracy.”

The Bill proposes the establishment of an independent secretariat for the ECI, as opposed to the current system of posting civil servants who are part of the executive to the poll panel. ECI Secretariat could also have its recruiting process similar to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Secretariats. Among the possible candidates for the ECI Secretariat are district officers, retired judges, and others in the legal profession.

Article 324 of the Constitution refers to the appointment of the CEC and ECs. The proposed amendment to Clause 2 of that article would change that. By adding the line “as per the recommendations of a committee” consisting of the Chief Justice of India as chairperson, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha as co-chairperson, and the leader of the largest opposition party as a member, the Bill proposed replacing the President’s appointment process. If a CEC resigns, the senior-most EC will be appointed CEC unless the committee finds them unfit for reasons documented in writing.

Currently, the senior-most EC gets promoted to CEC, but it’s not in the Constitution.

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