New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, conditions of service and term of office) Bill, 2023, which aims to provide a legal framework for the selection, salary, and removal of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other Election Commissioners (ECs). The bill was introduced by Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal in August 2023, following a Supreme Court directive to the government to enact a law on this matter. The bill was approved by voice vote after a heated debate, in which the opposition parties walked out of the House, alleging that the bill was an attempt to undermine the independence and impartiality of the Election Commission of India (ECI).
The bill proposes to set up a search committee, consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India, to recommend names for the posts of CEC and ECs. The final appointment will be made by the President of India on the advice of the Prime Minister. The bill also provides for the removal of the CEC and ECs by the President on the recommendation of a two-thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament on the grounds of proven misbehavior or incapacity. The bill also fixes the salary and allowances of the CEC and ECs at par with those of the judges of the Supreme Court. The bill also grants immunity to the CEC and ECs from any legal action for any act done in the exercise of their powers and duties.
The government defended the bill as a progressive and necessary step to ensure transparency and accountability in the functioning of the ECI, which is entrusted with the responsibility of conducting free and fair elections in the country. Meghwal said that the bill was based on the recommendations of various committees and commissions and that it would not affect the impartiality or autonomy of the ECI. He said that the bill was a government amendment bill and not a private member bill and that it had the support of the majority of the members of the House.
The opposition parties, however, strongly opposed the bill, accusing the government of trying to control and manipulate the ECI, which they said was the pillar of democracy and the guardian of the Constitution. They said that the bill would give the government undue influence over the appointment and removal of the CEC and ECs and that it would erode the credibility and integrity of the ECI. They also questioned the need and urgency of the bill and demanded that it be referred to a parliamentary committee for further scrutiny and consultation. They also staged a walkout from the House, expressing their dissent and dissatisfaction with the bill.
Congress leader Randeep Surjewala said that the bill was an attack on India’s democracy by the Modi government and that it would crush the autonomy, fearlessness, and impartiality of the ECI under the bulldozer. He said that the bill would enable the government to appoint the CEC and ECs as per its wish, to run the ECI as per its whims and fancies, and to decide the outcome of the elections. He said that this was one of the biggest assaults on democracy that the Modi government had carried out in the last nine and a half years and that the opposition would fight against it till the end, both inside and outside the Parliament.
RJD MP Manoj Jha said that the government was exercising executive control over the ECI and that the bill would make the ECI a puppet of the government. He said that the future generations would read that there was a time when there used to be an independent and impartial ECI, which was respected and trusted by the people. He said that the government did not give any satisfactory answers to the questions raised by the opposition and that the opposition did not want to be a part of this divisive bill.