Should former IAS officers not head the Election Commission to ensure its independence?
So far, all the appointments that have taken place have been good. We have had Chief Election Commissioners with good credentials, who have done a good job. However, there was a Public Interest Litigation which was heard by the Supreme Court in July 2017, wherein the SC directed the government to formulate laws for the election of the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commission.
The appointment of the Director of the CBI is as per the procedure laid down by a law enacted by the Parliament. But when it comes to the Chief Election Commissioner, there is no such law. It is done on the advice of the Prime Minister, and his cabinet and further ratified and sanctioned by the President who issues the declaration.
The world is changing though. All institutions have come under scrutiny and are questioned by the public. If there is a denigration of the functions of the Chief Election Commissioner, the credibility of his appointment begins to be doubted.
Here are other sharp perspectives on the question:
Often, it is the losing party that raises such questions, so even the question’s validity is suspect. EVMs have consistently been challenged. Even VVPAT which reproduces a paper slip of the vote that has been cast by a voter is being suspected now. This has been done as an extra safety measure. Our Election Commission is globally renowned; those questioning it forget it is a premier institution in this country.
But, the issue of transparency of the qualifications of selected candidates needs to be improved. There are so many capable people in this country, why should the selection only be limited to former bureaucrats. Even other institutions, like the CAG, have been a traditionally occupied by retired bureaucrats.
There is a need to pass a law in the parliament laying down the selection criteria for the Election Commission. They should also lay down rules that after retirement, no Chief Election Commissioner, should be offered other lucrative jobs. M. S. Gill became a Congress minister post-retirement. In such situations, their intentions and fairness while serving as Election Commissioners becomes suspect.
Another constant refrain from EC is that they have asked for more powers, but the government refuses this demand. EC can register a new party but they can’t deregister any party. They must be empowered. An impartial, non-partisan body must be constituted by law passed by the Parliament to select the Election Commissioner.
Major General Anil Verma (Retd), is the Head of ADR India and National Election Watch