New Delhi | Future chief election commissioners and election commissioners will be selected by a three-member panel headed by the prime minister and comprising the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and a Cabinet minister, according to a bill listed for introduction in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.
The bill comes months after the Supreme Court in March ruled that the selection panel should comprise the prime minister, the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India, till a law is framed by Parliament on appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and election commissioners.
Opposition leaders, including from the Congress and the AAP, immediately seized the opportunity and accused the government of diluting a Constitution bench order.
A vacancy will arise in the Election Commission (EC) early next year when Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey demits office on February 14 on attaining the age of 65 years.
His retirement will come just days before the likely announcement of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls' schedule by the EC. On the past two occasions, the commission had announced parliamentary polls in March.
The apex court in its March verdict had aimed at insulating the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and election commissioners from the Executive's interference.
It had ruled that their appointments will be done by the President on the advise of a committee comprising the prime minister, leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph, in a unanimous verdict, held that this norm will continue to hold good till a law on the issue is made by Parliament.
Before the Supreme Court ruling, the Chief Election Commissioner and election commissioners were appointed by the President on the recommendation of the government.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said he has always maintained that the government will overturn any Supreme Court order which it doesn't like and this is a dangerous situation that can impact fairness of elections.
The proposed panel will have two BJP members and one from the Congress, and therefore, whoever is selected to the poll panel will be loyal to the ruling party, Kejriwal, who is the Aam Aadmi Party's national convener, alleged on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Congress general secretary organisation K C Venugopal hit out at the government over the bill, calling it a "blatant attempt at making the Election Commission a total puppet in the hands of the prime minister (Narendra Modi)".
"What about the Supreme Court's existing ruling which requires an impartial panel? Why does the prime minister feel the need to appoint a biased Election Commissioner? This is an unconstitutional, arbitrary and unfair Bill - we will oppose this on every forum," Venugopal said on X.
Congress MP and the party's whip in Lok Sabha, Manickam Tagore, alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah want to control the EC by bringing the bill. "Modi and Shah want to control the EC as they are doing now," Tagore wrote on X.
According to the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, the Chief Election Commissioner other election commissioners shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a Selection Committee consisting of the prime minister, who will be the chairperson; the leader of opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha and a Union Cabinet minister to be nominated by the prime minister.
According to the bill, the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and election commissioners "shall not be invalid" merely by reason of any vacancy in or any defect in the constitution of the selection committee.
In case there is no LoP in the Lower House of Parliament, the leader of the single largest party in opposition in the Lok Sabha will be deemed to be the the LoP.
The Chief Election Commissioner and election commissioners will be appointed from amongst persons who are holding or have held a post equivalent to the rank of secretary and shall be persons of integrity, who have knowledge of and experience in management and conduct of elections.
A 'search committee' headed by the cabinet secretary and comprising two other members not below the rank of secretary, having knowledge and experience in matters relating to elections, shall prepare a panel of five persons for consideration of the selection committee, for appointment as the Chief Election Commissioner and election commissioners.
According to the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Law Ministry bill, the procedure for transaction of business of the Election Commission is at present governed by the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991.
The present law not contain provisions regarding the qualifications, search committee for preparing panel of persons for consideration and recommendation by the selection committee for appointment as Chief Election Commissioner and election commissioners.