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  India   All India  22 Dec 2023  Lok Sabha passes bill on CEC, ECs’ appointment

Lok Sabha passes bill on CEC, ECs’ appointment

THE ASIAN AGE. | PAWAN BALI
Published : Dec 22, 2023, 12:18 am IST
Updated : Dec 22, 2023, 12:18 am IST

The Rajya Sabha had cleared the bill on December 12

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other members in the Lok Sabha during the Winter session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. (PTI Photo)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other members in the Lok Sabha during the Winter session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. (PTI Photo)

New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed the contentious bill, which seeks to establish a mechanism to appoint the Chief Election Commissioner and election commissioners.

The Lower House passed the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill 2023 after a brief discussion with law minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, who asserted that it's in line with the Supreme Court's directions. The Rajya Sabha had cleared the bill on December 12.

On Thursday, the Rajya Sabha passed the Telecommunications Bill 2023, which seeks to allow the government to temporarily take control of telecom services in the interest of national security and provide a non-auction route for the allocation of satellite spectrum. It was passed by the Lok Sabha on Wednesday after a short debate.

Both Houses of Parliament were also adjourned sine die on Thursday, a day ahead of schedule. The Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die after it passed the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill 2023 to replace a British-era law governing the publishing industry and simplify the process of registration of periodicals.

The Rajya Sabha was also adjourned sine die after it passed three criminal bills -- the Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita 2023, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita 2023 and the Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill 2023 -- replacing the IPC, the CrPC and the Evidence Act.

Replying to debate in the Lok Sabha on the bill on the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner, Mr Meghwal said the 1991 Act on the service conditions of the CEC and ECs was a half-baked attempt that left out the key aspects of appointments and the present bill covers such areas.

The law minister also rejected suggestions that the proposed law was against the directions of the Supreme Court, which had asked the government to put in place a law on the appointments of the CEC and ECs.

Referring to the Supreme Court's March order, Mr Meghwal that the top court had said that till the time a law is in place, a three-member panel, headed by the Prime Minister and comprising the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India, will select the CEC and ECs.

Mr Meghwal said the bill is in consonance with the Supreme Court's ruling and not against it. He said the committee mentioned in the judgment was a "stop-gap" arrangement. Before the SC ruling, the CEC and ECs were appointed by the President on the recommendation of the government.

Referring to points raised by some members during the course of the debate, the minister said that, as per the doctrine of separation of powers, appointments to the poll panel come under the domain of the executive and the Prime Minister has to be a part of it.

Participating in the debate, the BJD's B. Mahtab said the primary focus should not be on the presence of the Chief Justice of India in the search committee but on ensuring the independence of the Election Commission. "Amid all the talks about democratic backsliding in India in certain forums, it is notable that nothing is being said about the lack of fairness in the election process. Credit for this goes to the Election Commission," Mr Mahtab said.

AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi opposed the bill calling it "arbitrary and biased" and saying that the EC will work under the shadow of the Prime Minister. "If voters start feeling like the EC is not impartial, the legitimacy of our democracy comes into question," he said.

When the bill came up for consideration in the Rajya Sabha earlier this month, the government had moved several amendments against the backdrop of protests by the Opposition parties and former CECs on various provisions.

Once the amended bill becomes law in the coming days, a search committee headed by the law minister and comprising two Union secretaries will shortlist five names for consideration by the selection committee for appointment as the CEC and ECs.

The panel, headed by the Prime Minister and comprising a Union minister nominated by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, will select members of the Election Commission.

In the event that there is no Leader of the Opposition in the Lower House, the leader of the single largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha will be deemed to be the LoP.

The selection panel will have the power to consider even those not shortlisted by the search committee. A vacancy will arise in the poll panel when Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey demits office on February 14 next year. He will retire on attaining the age of 65 and days before the EC is likely to announce the schedule for the Lok Sabha elections.

According to the amended bill, the government has decided to retain the status of the CEC and ECs on par with judges of the Supreme Court.

According to the bill, the CEC and ECs will be paid a salary equal to that of a Supreme Court judge. A new clause has been inserted in the amended bill to protect the CEC and ECs from court cases while discharging their official duties. It states that notwithstanding anything contained in any other law in force for the time being, no court shall entertain or continue any civil or criminal proceedings against any person who is or was a CEC or an EC.

The new clause comes against the backdrop of the Telangana high court order placing under suspension a special sessions judge in connection with a "direction" given by him to police for registering an FIR against CEC Rajiv Kumar and several others, saying the judge acted in "undue haste".

Another amendment now part of the billl makes it clear that the CEC shall not be removed from his office except in like manner and on like grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court. It also states that ECs shall not be removed from office except on the recommendation of the CEC.
These two clarifications are in line with the constitutional provisions mentioned in Article 324 dealing with the Election Commission.

The CEC and ECs will be appointed from amongst persons who are holding or have held a post equivalent to the rank of secretary. The President will appoint members of the poll panel.

 

Tags: lok sabha, chief election commissioner, arjun ram meghwal
Location: India, Delhi