New Delhi: Several opposition parties in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday expressed apprehension that the new bill to regulate the appointment of election commissioners will allow the ruling party to appoint ‘yes men’ and influence their conduct which would harm democracy.
“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,” Congress MP Randeep Singh Surjewala claimed.
Surjewala initiated the debate on the Chief Election Commissioners and Other Elections Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill 2023 which was later passed in the Upper House with a voice vote.
The Congress MP said there was a time when the word “EC” meant “Electoral Credibility”. “Unfortunately, you have decided to make it ‘Election Compromised’,” he charged.
Was Raghav Chadha Proposing Sambit Patra’s For CEC?
Aam Aadmi Party member Raghav Chadha claimed that for the second time within a few months, the government has attempted to overturn a Supreme Court judgement which is an “insult” to the apex court.
“This bill is illegal. You cannot overturn the SC judgment without changing the basis of the judgement. This bill is against the basic structure of the Constitution. The basic structure of the Constitution is of free and fair election,” Chadha said.
He alleged through the bill the government wants to put a system in place so that they can appoint their “yes men”. “They can make Sambit Patra as CEC. How dangerous will it be if he becomes chief election commissioner,” Chadha said.
Arjun Ram Meghwal’s remark
However, Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, in his reply rebutted the Opposition allegations that the bill has been brought to circumvent a judgement of the Supreme Court related to the appointments of CEC and ECs.
Rather, he said, it is in accordance with the direction of the apex court judgement and ensures the separation of power as enshrined in the Constitution.
In his speech, Chadha questioned why the Chief Justice of India has not been included in the proposed selection committee.
“The Supreme Court said that there should be a three-member selection committee comprising Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice of India but they have removed the CJI,” Chadha said.
He alleged that the ruling party would “capture” the office of the Chief Election Commissioner through the bill.
Jawhar Sircar claims bill would legalise rigging
All India Trinamool Congress member Jawhar Sircar alleged the status of the CEC and other election commissioners was being deliberately lowered from that of a cabinet secretary. He alleged the bill would legalise rigging and said that questions have already been raised on the credibility of the electronic voting machines.
DMK member Tiruchi Shiva also opposed the bill and demanded that it be sent to a select committee for review.
BJD member Amar Patnaik supported the bill, saying the working of the ECs is not affected by the appointment process.
More about the bill being discussed
He said there have been several elections after 1989 when no party was able to get an absolute majority but election commissioners continued to hold free and fair elections.
“Mrs Indira Gandhi’s government was thrown out in 1977 and that shows that the Election Commission’s transaction of business which is covered under under Sections 16 and 17 in Chapter Four is not affected by the appointment process,” Patnaik said.
The BJD member, however, sought clarification on the clause on disqualification of election commissioners.
He asked if it would be based on the decision of the CEC or additional process would be followed similar to the one proposed for the disqualification of the CEC.
The Bill was introduced in the Upper House on August 10 and seeks to replace the 1991 Act which did not have a clause related to the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners.