Rajya Sabha passes Bill to regulate appointments of CEC, ECs; Opposition walks out

AAP MP Raghav Chadha alleged it is "not a Bill but a bulldozer with which the government has finished the ECs impartiality".


Published Dec 13, 2023 | 3:41 PMUpdatedDec 13, 2023 | 3:45 PM

Opposition parties oppose the amendments to the appointment of CECs and EC Bill. (Screengrab)

The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, 12 December, passed a Bill to regulate the appointment and service terms of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs) incorporating key amendments like retaining their status at par with Supreme Court judges, upgrading the search committee and inserting a new clause to protect them from court cases while discharging their official duties.

While the Bill was passed by a voice vote, Opposition members alleged the proposed measure subjugates the poll authority to the Executive and violates the Constitution.

They also alleged that it was an attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court order on the appointment of CEC and ECs and walked out of the house, expressing unhappiness over the minister’s reply.

When the Bill was introduced in the Upper House in August this year, Opposition parties and some former CECs had objected to the members of the poll panel being equated to the Cabinet Secretary. They had claimed that the move would compromise the independence of the institution.

At present, the CEC and fellow ECs enjoy the status of a judge of the Supreme Court. By bringing the amendment, the government has retained that status.

Also Read: Government likely to move amendment to bring CEC, EC on par with SC judges

The amendments

A new clause related to protection from initiation of legal proceedings against the CEC and ECs for actions taken while carrying out their duties has also been introduced through the amendments, the law minister said.

The new clause comes against the backdrop of the Telangana High Court placing under suspension a special sessions judge in connection with a “direction” given by him to police for registering an FIR against Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar and several others, saying the judge acted in “undue haste”.

The new clause seeks to prevent such incidents, a functionary said.

Replying to the debate, Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal said some amendments have been brought in for rectification in the structure of the search committee, which was earlier proposed to be under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary.

Instead, it will be under the chairmanship of the law minister with two Union secretaries as members, he added.

He pointed out that under another amendment moved by him, the CEC and other commissioners shall be paid a salary that is equal to the salary of a judge of the Supreme Court.

The Bill had earlier proposed that the salary of the CEC and the ECs would be at par with the emoluments of the Cabinet Secretary.

Another proposed amendment makes it clear that the chief election commissioner shall not be removed from his office except in the manner and on the grounds of a judge of the Supreme Court.

It also states that the other election commissioner shall not be removed from office except on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner.

These two clarifications are in line with constitutional provisions mentioned in Article 324 dealing with the Election Commission, a former poll panel functionary pointed out.

EC is and will be impartial: Meghwal

In his reply, Meghwal noted that the working of the EC has been impartial and it will remain so.

The government is committed to keep it that way, he stressed

The minister said the new legislation has been necessitated as the earlier Act had weaknesses.

He also rebutted the Opposition’s allegations that the Bill has been brought to circumvent a judgement of the Supreme Court related to the appointments of CEC and ECs.

Also Read: Bill seeking to replace CJI with Cabinet minister in CEC selection panel tabled

The Bill

“This Bill which we have brought is not against the Supreme Court. It has been brought as per the directions given by the Supreme Court. It is per the provisions listed under Article 324 (2). The Bill also follows the separation of powers as listed under Article 50 of the constitution,” Meghwal said.

The Bill was brought after the Supreme Court in March ruled that 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 till a law is framed by Parliament on the appointment of these commissioners.

As per the Bill, the Prime Minister will head the selection committee with the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and a Union Cabinet minister as the other two members.

‘Voilates constitution’: Congress

During the debate, Congress MP Randeep Singh Surjewala alleged the proposed legislation completely negates and violates the very spirit of the Constitution that is enshrined in Article 14.

“It completely negates and subjugates the Election Commission to the authority of the Executive and it does away willingly, maliciously the judgement of the Supreme Court and that is why this law is per se like a stillborn child,” he alleged.

Congress Rajya Sabha member Dr Amee Yajnik opposed the Bill, claiming elections will no longer be fair if the Bill is implemented.

Amar Patnaik (BJD) supported the Bill and argued that the independence of the CEC has been maintained and there is “no affront to the independence and interference in the election process”, as argued by the Opposition members.

After the walkout by the opposition, senior Samajwadi Party MP Ram Gopal Yadav said, “It has now become clear that this government wants to have total control over the Election Commission and wants to tilt the election process in their favour.”

“Now there is no scope of holding impartial elections,” he claimed.

‘A bulldozer’: Raghav Chadha

AAP MP Raghav Chadha alleged it is “not a Bill but a bulldozer with which the government has finished the Election Commission’s impartiality”.

Subhas Chandra Bose Pilli (YSRCP) spoke in Telugu in support of the Bill.

DMK members R Girirajan, Mahua Maji (JMM) and Binoy Viswam of the CPI opposed the Bill.

Various other members including Dinesh Sharma (BJP), K Ravindra Kumar (TDP), Ajit Kumar Bhuyan (Ind), Kavita Patidar (BJP), M Thambidurai (AIADMK), Deepak Prakash (BJP), GK Vasan TMC (M), Ajay Pratap Singh (BJP), Priyanka Chaturvedi (Shiv Sena) and Vandana Chavan (NCP) also participated in the discussion.

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