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Key Takeaways

  • The Election Commission of India was established on 25th of January 1950. Its headquarters are located in New Delhi. It is an autonomous body.
  • The Commission consists of a Chief Election Commissioner and two other additional Commissioners. They are generally retired IAS Officers.
  • The ultimate function of the Commission is to exercise superintendence and control over the election process in the country.
  • It has the duty to extend its aid and advice to the President and the Governor of States, in matters involving the disqualification of a public representative.
  • It has played a crucial role in conducting elections with transparency, credibility, fairness, integrity, autonomy, accountability, and professionalism.

Introduction

The Election Commission of India (ECI) was formed on 25 January, 1950 with its headquarters in New Delhi. It directly comes under the Ministry of Law and Justice. It is an independent body established under the Constitution of India. Article 324 of the Constitution lays down that the ECI shall have the superintendence and control over the preparation of electoral rolls for conducting elections to the Parliament, State Legislature, offices of President and Vice-President. Hence, this body is common and relevant to both the State and Central Government.

Composition of the Election Commission of India

The ECI mainly comprises the Chief Election Commissioner and two other additional Commissioners. They are all generally retired IAS Officers. They are appointed by the President of India for a term of 6 years. They hold the office for 6 years or till the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. Mr. Sushil Chandra is the current and 24th Chief Election Commissioner of India. He is the head of the ECI. The only way these Commissioners can be removed from the office is through a Parliamentary impeachment. The Election Commissioners are assisted by the Deputy Election Commissioners. They are further assisted by Directors General, Principal Secretaries, and Secretaries and Under Secretaries.

On the State level, the Commission is headed by the Chief Electoral Officer of the State. At the District level, the District Magistrate along with Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers perform and regulate the election process. The other Election Commissioner or Regional Commissioner can be removed from office only by the Chief Election Commissioner.

Removal of the Commissioner

An Election Commissioner can resign from his office at any time. But he can also be removed from his office before the expiry of his tenure. The procedure for the removal of the Chief Election Commissioner is similar to that of the impeachment of a judge of the Supreme Court of India. The procedure says that both the Houses of the Parliament i.e. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have to pass a special resolution supported by a two-third majority, on the grounds of proved misbehavior or incapacity. When such a resolution is passed, only then the President can remove him from office.

The other Election Commissioner or theRegional Commissioner can be removed from office on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner.

Functions

India is a democratic country. The framers of the Constitution very carefully and diligently made provisions for the establishment of an independent body to ensure that there is free and fair elections in the country. With this very purpose, the main function or object of the ECI is to make sure that periodic elections are conducted. Also, they oversee the election proceedings to regulate fair elections.

A model code of conduct for the political parties was first issued by the ECI in 1971. The code provides guidelines to be followed by the political parties and candidates during the election period. The code has been revised time and again to meet the needs of the evolving democratic society.

The general rules laid down for regulating the elections are set by the ECI. They are also responsible for preparing the electoral roll and for determining the territorial distribution of constituencies. They also have the duty to check into the background of the candidates and point out any criminal antecedents, if any. The candidates representing the political parties are also liable to disclose their assets and liabilities to the ECI.

When a person is selected by a political party to contest the election for a particular constituency, they have to submit their nomination papers. These papers are to be received and scrutinized by the ECI. Additionally, the ECI also sets the limit over campaign expenditure per candidate and monitors the same.

Duties

The ECI has the duty to register and recognize political parties to avoid confusion. Section 29(A) of the Representation of People Act, 1956 provides for such registration. The Commission also has to prepare and maintain a list of eligible voters.

There are many instances, where a public representative can be disqualified on various grounds. When such a question arises, it is the duty of the ECI to extend his aid and advice to the President and Governor in matters of disqualification of a Member of Parliament or Member of State Legislature, respectively.

Since it is the duty of the ECI to oversee the voting process, it shall have the authority to cancel polls in case of any irregularity. It also has to collect audited financial reports and annual reports submitted to them by the political parties.

The body is also responsible for making appointments to the post of the Chief Electoral Officer, District Election Officer, Electoral Registration Officer, and Returning Officer. It is the duty of the Commission to make a request to the President or the Governor, as the case may be, to make available the necessary staff to discharge its functions as provided under Article 324 Clause (1).

Powers

There are many political parties in India. However, the status of a national-level party or a regional party is conferred by the ECI. It has the power to register or deregister any political party. In order to eliminate any possibility of unfair elections, the ECI also has the power to set the limit on the election expenditure. This is so that a political party having excessive money power cannot employ any undue influence.

The body also has the power to appoint an Expenditure Observer from the Indian Revenue Services to maintain surveillance over the expenses made by the candidates. It is said that a voter has the constitutional right to know everything about a candidate for whom he intends to vote for. Hence, the ECI has the power to procure all the detailed information about the candidate and make them public for the voters.

The Commission also has the authority over settling disputes wherein the recognition granted to political parties and candidates is questioned. It acts as a Court in matters relating to the allotment of election symbols to such parties and candidates. The ECI also bears the power to decide the schedule of elections and they can also postpone the date of the election. In the recent case of Nagrik Upbhokta Margdarshak Manch v. the State of Madhya Pradesh (2021), Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice V K Shukla decided that only the Election Commission of India has the power to decide when to conduct by-elections.

The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 gives power to the Election Commission of India to allot election symbols to the political parties.The Commission has certain specified symbols as reserved and others as free. The reserved symbols are available only to the candidates sponsored by the political pin ties and free symbols are equally available to other candidates.

Importance of the Election Commission

In a democratic country like India, elections are to be given much importance. Part XV of the Constitution deals with elections and provides for the establishment of an autonomous body called the Election Commission of India. In organizing the elections of the largest democracy in the world, the ECI plays a crucial and decisive role.

The particulars mentioned in our Constitution’s Preamble that aim to provide equality, equity, impartiality, independence; and rule of law in superintendence, and control over the electoral governance, are upheld by the Election Commission. Hence, the Election Commission is regarded as the guardian of elections in the country.

The ECI has never failed to conduct elections with the highest standard of transparency, credibility, fairness, integrity, autonomy, accountability, and professionalism.It has always created awareness about the electoral process and electoral governance amongst voters, candidates and political parties, election functionaries, and people at large; and enhanced and strengthened confidence and trust in the electoral system of this country.

Conclusion

Since its inception in 1950, the Commission has successfully built itself an admirable track record of honesty and fairness in the election process which is imperative in a country like India. Along with the developments in Political Science, there has also been an increase in electoral malpractices. The reports released by the Election Commission indicate that the Police had received almost seventy-five thousand First Instance Reports in relation to different kinds of poll-related violations. As a result, the ECI has received a lot of backlash for allegedly being incompetent in exercising its duty.

To overcome these issues, various measures have been adopted by the Commission. In 2014, the ECI in order to curb malpractices, allowed citizens to upload video clips and audio recordings of inflammatory speeches, or distribution of cash or liquor among eligible voters to mobilize their votes, to the official website of the ECI. In 2018, the Commission also launched an Android-based App called “cVIGIL”. This app allowed common people to share proof of malpractices by candidates and their political parties.

Please let us know your views on the following questions –
1. Do you believe that the Election Commission, as an autonomous body, has successfully provided for free and fair elections?
2. What measures can be taken to curb such electoral malpractices?


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