What is Election Commission
The Election commission of India is an autonomous body, responsible for administering elections in India. It is primarily responsible for fostering the principles of democracy by conducting fair and unbiased elections. The provision for an Election Commission to hold and supervise elections for Lok Sabha (Lower House), Rajya Sabha (Upper House), State Legislative Assemblies, Legislative Councils, Offices of the President of India and Vice President of India are made in the Article 324 of the Indian Constitution.
The Constitution of India has provided exceptional autonomy and discretionary powers to the Election Commission for conducting fair and free elections. Such autonomy and freedom are enjoyed by only a few other Indian Institutions like Union Public Service Commission, Higher Judiciary and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
Formation and Amendments of Election Commission of India
The first Election Commission of India was established on 25th January 1950, and an Indian Civil Services officer, Sukumar Sen held the post of the first Election Commissioner of India, from 21st March 1950 to 19th December 1958.
The number of Election Commissioners was increased to three on 16th October 1989, with the appointment of two more commissioners to the Election Commission; however, this commission ceased to function in January 1990.
In 1991, the Parliament of India passed a law provisioning the appointment of two election commissioners. However, this law was further amended in 1993 and renamed as the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Conditions of Service) Amendment Act 1993, which is continued till date.
The 1993 Act mandates the appointment of a Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners, to head the electoral body. Any decision taken by the commission must enjoy a majority vote.
Centre to State Structure of the Election Commission
The Secretariat of the Election Commission of India is based in the National Capital, New Delhi. The commission is headed by the Chief Election Commissioner, who is assisted by two Election Commissioners. The Election Commissioners are usually retired officers from IAS (Indian Administrative Services).
The Election Commissioners are further assisted by the Deputy Election Commissioners (also IAS officers), Director Generals, Principal Secretaries, Secretaries and Under Secretaries.
State Election Commissioner is appointed by the respective state government, after getting necessary approval from the Election Commission of India. The State Election Commissioner should be a working IAS officer of the rank of Principal Secretary.
At the district and constituency level, respective District Magistrate (DM) is answerable to the Election Commission. During elections, the District Magistrates function under various capacities as District Election Officers, Electoral Registration Officers, and Returning Officers.
Appointment, Term of Election Commissioners and Provisions for Their Removal
The Chief Election Commissioner of India is appointed by the Hon’ble President of India, based on the recommendations of the Prime Minister and its council of Ministers. The convention, however, is to select the senior-most, serving Election Commissioner, as the Chief Election Commissioner.
The Chief Election Commissioner of India is eligible for a term of six years or until attaining the age of 65 years; whichever is earlier. The same rules for appointment and tenure apply to the Election Commissioners as well.
The removal of the Chief Election Commissioner from his post is not an easy task and is kept immune to political influences. The Chief Election Commissioner of India can be removed only by a two-thirds majority in both the houses of Parliament – Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, that too only on the grounds of proven misbehavior or incapacity to hold the post.
However, on the other hand, the Chief Election Commissioner of India can make a recommendation for the removal of any of the two Election Commissioners, to the President of India, on the grounds that he thinks as valid. However, any such recommendation is not binding on the President and s/he is can reject it.
The state election Commissioners are appointed by the respective state government, after obtaining due approval from the Election Commission. S/he is usually a serving IAS officer of Principal Secretary Level and is eligible for a tenure of 5 years from the date of assumption of office as the State Election Commissioner or until attaining the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. Also, s/he must not hold any other office of profit under the state government or Municipality until the completion of his term.
The Election Commissioner of India can willingly submit his resignation to the President, while the Election Commissioner of a state can submit his resignation to the Governor of the state.
Election Commission of India – Functions, Responsibilities, and Roles
Holding free and fair elections from time to time is essential for democracy and to foster its principles. The election commission of India is a constitutional body vested with conducting free and fair elections for Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, Legislative Assemblies, Legislative Councils, Office of the President and Vice President.
It functions as the guardian of an election, conducting and supervising the complete electoral process, issuing a model code of conduct during the elections, to be adhered to by all the political parties.
All the political parties must be registered with the Election Commission. The Election Commission decides on various vital parameters of the elections. It designates or approves insignias for political parties and their candidates, no two political parties can have the same symbol, irrespective of their areas of functioning. Election Commission also sets a limit for campaign expenses and duration. It is primarily responsible for maintaining electoral data and the schedule of elections.
Powers of the Election Commission of India
The Election Commission of India is vested with freedom, autonomy, and political immunity. These powers are granted to the Commission by the Indian Constitution, in order to ensure free and fair elections.
The Commission enjoys several other discretionary powers as well. Every political party, candidate and their respective symbols must be registered with the election Commission; failing which, they may be disqualified from contesting elections.
The Commission also sets limits to a candidate’s election expenditure and the latter has to submit an affidavit regarding the campaign expenditures, within 30 days of the declaration of results. It also has the power to disqualify or impose penalties or restrictions on the candidates who violate the code of conduct.
The commission also sets a limit to the election campaigns, which recently has been reduced to 14 days from 21, for Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. It also holds the power to put restrictions on or ban transmission, the printing of exit polls, if it thinks that such polls might influence the voters and consequently, the results.
During elections, the commission has discretionary power to hold or revoke any administrative transfers made by the central/state governments. On the other hand, the commission itself can affect such transfers under its discretion, to ensure free and fair elections.
Improvements in the Electoral Process
A number of improvements have been made by the Election Commission in the election process in the past, to make the elections more transparent and unbiased. The Commission introduced EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) in order to make the elections more transparent and efficient. EVMs were first used on experimentation basis in 1992 Legislative Assembly elections, for North Paravur Assembly Constituency, Kerala, for a limited number of polling stations.
Later in 1989, the EVMs were commissioned by the Election Commission in collaboration with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL). In 1999 Goa saw a complete legislative election by using EVMs. In 2009 the Election Commission has made it mandatory to use EVM in all the elections, except gram sabha and municipalities’ elections.
Another big development came with the introduction of VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail), along with the EVM in 2014, which functions as a verification system for the EVMs. The trial of VVPAT was first made in a September 2013 by-poll at Noksen Assembly Constituency in Nagaland. Gradually EVMs and VVPATs replaced the ballot box system in all the elections.
The Election Commission also maintains all the relevant data regarding the candidates, electoral roles, administration, and results, in its official website, since 1998. It also started issuing Electronic Photo Identity Cards (EPICs) in 1993, which was mandated in the 2004 elections.
Bihar Legislative Assembly Election 2015 was the first of its kind, with the photographs of candidates displayed on the EVMs. The Commission also introduced a NOTA (None of The Above) button in The EVM in 2014, for the voters who don’t want to vote for any of the contesting candidates.
How Many Members are there in the Election Commission of India?
The Election Commission of India is a three-member body, constituting of one Chief Election Commissioner, two Election Commissioners. The Chief Election Commissioner is the senior-most officer followed by two Election Commissioners. Any decision by the Commission is to be made by a majority vote among the three Election Commissioners.
Election Commission of India Model Code of Conduct
The candidates and parties are supposed to abide by the instructions of the model code of conduct, which covers areas like a place of meeting, conduct, campaigns, etc. Parties found violating the model code of conduct, could be imposed with a penalty or could be debarred from contesting an election, in case of serious misconduct.
Some general instructions under the model code of conduct are given below-
1) No political party or candidate should ask for votes on the basis of religion or caste.
2) No political party or its candidate should involve in the instigation of communal hatred or violence.
3) Luring or threatening the voters to influence their votes is prohibited.
4) Arranging for the transportation of voters to the polling booth by the candidates or parties is also prohibited.
5) No personally demeaning comments should be made for any political opponent or his/her family, by any of the contestants or parties.
6) No deliberate obstructions should be made to the campaign of opponent candidates.
7) Local administration must be notified and permission for campaigns sought well in advance.
8) Ruling party ministers are not allowed to use government machinery for election campaigning.
9) No announcements of any financial grant or schemes should be made by the government officials of ministers during the model code of conduct.
10) No promises, what so ever can be made by the parties or the candidates as long as the model code of conduct is in force.
The responsibility of conducting free, fair and unbiased elections in India rests largely on the Election Commission of India. It functions as the guardian of Indian elections and the preserver of democracy. It could be said that the future of India and its citizens depends on the ability of the election commission to conduct free and fair elections. The Election Commission must also constantly apply new changes to make the election process more efficient and transparent.
To achieve such high standards of transparency and efficiency, it is essential that the Commission must enjoy immunity from any political influence and certain discretionary powers must be vested in it, to ensure the same. Thus, Article 324 of the Indian Constitution, does complete justice by keeping the Election Commission of India, out of any political influence and providing autonomy, which is enjoyed by only a few other Indian institutions.