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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 38 September 16, 2023

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Sept 16, 2023

Saturday 16 September 2023


Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Sept 16, 2023

A special session of Parliament is to be held from September 18 to 22, and members of Parliament have only just been told about the agenda. On top of the agenda on September 18, is The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023 [1], [2] brought in by the ruling BJP Government led by Mr Modi seeking to undo the recent Supreme Court ruling in ’Anoop Baranwal vs. Union of India’ in March 2023 that gave weight to the independence of the election commission in accordance with the constitution. The Supreme Court had ruled unanimously that a high power committee of the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India must pick the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the Elections Commissioners (ECs) and recommend these to the President. The Bill which has already been passed in Rajya Sabha, the Upper House, is now for consideration by Lok Sabha, intends to 1) replace the presence of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) with a Union Cabinet Minister in the selection committee for election commissioners; 2) downgrade the status of Election Commissioner to status of Cabinet Secretary from that of Supreme Court Judge; 3) repeal the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991, which currently governs the appointment, conditions of service, and term of office of the Election Commissioners. The Election Commissioners held constitutional office like that of Supreme Court Judges so that they could freely decide cases involving the government, the Prime Minister, etc, but downgrading them to the level of top Bureaucracy takes away their status in the chain of command of the State nomenclature and authority structures. Calling a special parliamentary session to vote for the Election Commission Bill to overturn a Supreme Court judgment to bring the Election Commission under executive control is a dangerous move. Leaders of the Congress, the principal opposition party and leading figures on the left [3] see this as move to control the poll panel prior to 2024 national general election [4]. Even before this bill was brought prominent civil society groups in India have already been expressing concerns over the eroding autonomy of the Election Commission of India [5]. This bill must be must be defeated by a united opposition so as not to diminish the constitutional status and authority of the Election Commissioners and prevent possible harm to the system of electoral democracy in India.

September 16, 2023 —HK

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