Highlight the powers and functions of the Election Commission of India (ECI). Also, discuss the issues regarding the independence and impartiality of the ECI.
The Election Commission is a permanent and an independent body established by the Constitution of India directly to ensure free and fair elections. The Commission has got the jurisdiction throughout India over elections to Parliament, State legislature, Offices of President and Vice President.
Powers and functions of the Election Commission of India
- Administrative: The Commission has been given powers for determining the territorial areas of the electoral constituencies, preparing electoral rolls, notifying the dates and schedules of elections, granting recognition to political parties, allotting election symbols to parties, determine the code of conduct in times of elections etc.
- Advisory: ECI is empowered to advise the President and Governor on matters relating to the disqualifications of the members of Parliament and state legislature respectively.
- Quasi-judicial: It also acts as a court for settling disputes related to granting of recognition to political parties and disputes arising out of the allotment of election symbols to them.
Independence and impartiality of the ECI
Article 324 of the Constitution contains several provisions to safeguard and ensure the independent and impartial functioning of the Election Commission such as:
- Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) cannot be removed from office on account of political reasons and enjoys protection at par with the judges of the Supreme Court.
- Service conditions of the CEC cannot be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment.
- Election Commissioners cannot be removed from office except upon the recommendation of the CEC.
Despite these provisions, there are some issues regarding which hinder its complete independence and impartiality:
- Appointment issues:
- No prescribed qualifications in Constitution: Members are appointed without any defined criteria or processes.
- Appointments liable to politicization: At present, the appointment is done unilaterally by the government of the day, which raises the potential for partisan appointments, thus diluting its credibility.
- Security of tenure: The Constitution has not specified the term of the members of the Election Commission. Further, Election Commissioners are not given the same level of security of tenure as that of CEC.
- Post-retirement appointment: The Constitution has not debarred the retiring Election Commissioners from taking up an office of profit under the state or joining a political party after retirement.
- Financial autonomy: At present, the budget of ECI is not charged on Consolidated Fund of India which tends to reduce its independence and autonomy.
In light of this, it is essential to impart requisite institutional protection and independence so that public faith in the EC is strengthened. This bolsters the case for the removal of any political bias in the appointment of the CEC and ECs and the same should be channeled in a manner ensuring adequate participation of all the relevant stakeholders.