The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners Appointment Bill 2023: A Tightrope Walk Ahead for the Government Between Transparency and Potential Pitfalls


Both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have passed the contentious Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023. The Rajya Sabha gave its approval earlier this month despite a walkout by the opposition.

The purpose of the bill is to set up the procedure for selecting the three members of the Election Commission of India (ECI). It was brought in response to the Supreme Court’s directive in the Anoop Baranwal Vs Union of India case of March 2023. Supreme Court had emphasized that ECI should be independent to conduct free and fair elections. The SC, under Article 142 (to issue directions for doing ‘complete justice’ in any matter), laid down that the CEC and ECs shall be appointed by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the CJI, and the Leader of the Opposition or the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha.

The provisions of the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023 include the appointment of CEC and ECs by a selection committee appointed by the President which will consist of Prime Minister, a Union Cabinet Minister, and the Leader of Opposition/leader of the largest opposition party in Lok Sabha. A Search Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary will propose a panel of names to the Selection Committee whose recommendations will be valid even when there is a vacancy in this Committee. Eligibility criteria are candidates who are holding (or have held) a post equivalent to the Secretary to the central governmentIn addition to this, the Bill has provision that the salary and conditions of service of the CEC and ECs will be equivalent to that of the Cabinet Secretary. Also, the Bill safeguards CEC and ECs from legal proceedings related to actions taken during their tenure, provided such actions were carried out in the discharge of official duties.

The Bill was introduced by showing intent that there is a need to bring transparency in the appointment procedure of EC and CECs but the provisions therein show a stark contrast. Allowing the Selection Committee’s recommendations to be valid even with a vacancy could undermine the diversity and independence of the committee. Equating the salary of the CEC and ECs with that of the Cabinet Secretary, whose salary is determined by the executive, raises concerns about potential government influence and this shift may compromise the financial independence of the EC. In addition to this, limiting the eligibility criterion to individuals who have held a position equivalent to the Secretary to the government may exclude more qualified candidates, limiting the diversity of backgrounds and expertise in the ECI.

The central government should address the concerns that have come forward by the provisions of the Bill and should clear the air on what framework it will put in place to ensure that the office of the Election Commission of India works independently and transparently.

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