Our Republic’s founding fathers formulated representative parliamentary democracy as the polity that best suited the culture, history, and needs of India. They anticipated equal participation by all adults, without prejudice, in the democratic process. The selection of the representatives of the people by the universal adult franchise and democratic elections were acts of faith for everyone. Transparency and accountability are sculpting to be vital issues for voters. This article focuses on the body which performs its functions to conduct free and fair elections i.e. Election Commission of India.
The Election Commission of India is an autonomous central, state and district statutory body responsible and accountable for overseeing the electoral process in India. The Board administers the elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha elections, State Assemblies, State Legislative Councils, and the Presidential and Vice Presidential elections of the nation. Under Article 324 of the Constitution, the Election Commission performs its work, and the Representation of the People Act has been subsequently enacted under it.
The Commission has the strength and supremacy, under the Constitution, to engage in behaviour appropriate to the extent, when the enacted laws make insufficient provision for dealing with a given situation in the conduct of an election. As a constitutional body, the Election Commission is one of the limited bodies that operate with both sovereignty and independence, along with the nation’s higher judiciary, the Union Public Service Commission, and India’s Controller and Auditor General.
Election Commission of India
The Election Commission of India (ECI), which was formed in 1950 to promote the democratic process in India, is a constitutionally approved body. Its headquarters is situated in New Delhi. It consists of three members namely, the Chief Election Commissioner and two other Commissioners who are designated by the President of India for a term of six years and who cannot be removed from office except through a parliamentary indictment. The ECI, while almost invulnerable to political pressures and scrupulously neutral, is tasked with ensuring free and fair elections.
The Indian Election Commission is the governing body of elections. The Election Commission of India (ECI) is envisaged by Article 324 of the Constitution of India. It defines the code of conduct for the election model in the country.
The Constitution under Article 324 provides for the planning, conduct, and supervision for elections to the Legislature, the State Governments, and the President and Vice-President offices by the Election Commission. Therefore, both the central and regional elections are the responsibility of the Election Commission.
It is also responsible for preparing, maintaining and updating the electoral rolls, raising political funds, registration of political parties, the nomination of candidates, monitoring of campaigns, accelerating media, arranging and organising polling booths, superintending the vote counting and result declaration. The ECI is convincing and determined in matters of elections—for instance, where the law is ambiguous—but it can be challenged in courts of law.
In the early 21st century, the Indian general elections became the world’s biggest democratic exercise. In a number of geographical, political, and climatic ways, they involved nearly 700 million voters in some 700,000 polls. The ECI functions through a secretariat of almost 300 staff members. Each state has a Chief Electoral Officer with a core staff, and civil servants assume the responsibilities of election officials at the district and electoral levels. However, during the general election, an enormous team of temporary workers, up to five million are responsible for the conduct of the poll.
Superintendence, Direction, Control, and Accountability for Elections
In Article 324, the term superintendence, direction, and control, and the conduct of all elections were added to include certain powers which, although not expressly given, are required to be exercised in order to effectively fulfill the task of holding the elections at their completion. Furthermore, it would be appropriate for the Commission to make general provisions on matters pertaining to symbols, either in anticipation or in the light of practice. For the purpose of free and fair elections and the protection and security of electors and with a view to avoiding bullying and victimization of electors, the Commission has full authority to guide the way in which ballots are counted and is accountable for the measures taken during the process. For the transfer of those officers (who had completed more than four years of stay in one district) from one district to another, directives are issued by the Election Commission and adopted pursuant to or intra vires to Article 324.
The text conduct of the elections referred to in Article 324 was considered to be broad in scope, which would include the power to make all the necessary arrangements for the conduct of free and fair elections. As every contingency cannot be acknowledged or anticipated beforehand, the Supreme Court in Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, held that the Commission could cope with a situation in which the field had not been occupied by issuing the necessary orders. Article 324 was said to be a reserve of power, giving the Commission its own right to exercise residual authority a creature of the Constitution. The Commission may, therefore, issue instructions asking the candidates to provide information on their assets, their educational qualifications, the background of their lives, etc.
Nevertheless, the terms ‘superintendence, direction, and control in Article 324 are intended to complement and not replace the law and, therefore, the Commission cannot move against a validly formed electoral law. No power to de-register a political party shall also be bestowed on the Election Commission. Moreover, with the approval of the State, the Commission may control any legal issue not protected by the Rules of Procedure set out in the Legislature.
In the case of Ram Deo Bhandari v. Election Commission, the Supreme Court held that the Election Commission was free to take such measures as it deemed appropriate to ensure a free and fair vote, but would not withhold the elections to the Legislative Assembly of a State on the ground that it had failed to complete the process of issuing photo identity cards within the time limit prescribed by the Commission, for it would be a contravention of the mandate of Article 168 of the Constitution.
In the case of J.T. Girls Degree College v. State of U.P., it was ruled that the Election Commission and the Election Authorities are both controlled by the 1951, Representation of People Act, and cannot act in a manner inconsistent with the Act. It is also recommended that Article 324 should be read in the context of the Constitutional Scheme and the Act of 1950 and 1951.
In A.C. Jose v. Sivan Pillai, some significant errors in the use of EVM had been identified by the Supreme Court. Since these deficiencies had been taken care of by the new improved version of EVM as well as by the Representation of People Act, 1951 and the Rules there under were modified accordingly.
Issues for which ECI has to be Accountable
- The presence of money and criminal elements in politics has risen over the years, along with intimidation and political corruption resulting in elections being criminalized. The ECI could not stop the deterioration.
- Blatant misuse of power has occurred by the State Governments, which often makes large-scale transactions on the eve of elections and posts malleable officials in key positions, often employing official vehicles and electioneering buildings, in violation of the ECI model code of conduct.
- The ECI is not properly prepared to control the parties. The ECI does not have the authority to impose internal party control and to govern party finances.
- Throughout the past few years, there has been a growing perception that the Election Commission is becoming increasingly independent of the executive that has damaged the institution ‘s reputation.
- One of the main institutional drawbacks is the lack of accountability in the election of the CEC and two other commissioners and the choice of the presiding government.
- EVMs have been reported to be malfunctioning, to be hacked, and not to record votes that corrode the confidence of the institution of the general masses.
- Loss of structural governance as a result of decreasing democratic morality norms and deteriorating service ethic and commitment in public life.
- An inefficient and lengthy judicial method of managing electoral requests, frequently making the whole method meaningless.
Through the years, a range of commendable electoral reforms has been carried out by the Election Commission to improve democracy and improve the fairness of the elections. These changes are admirable and equally sufficient. Under the EC’s auspices, the election machinery certainly deserves plaudits for free and fair conducting of elections. So many vices still torment our framework.
Political parties turn to irrational tactics and unethical practices to win votes. These diseases promote entry of the anti-social elements into the electoral competition. The question is not the lack of legislation but their lack of rigid compliance and enforcement. There is a need to strengthen the ECI’s hands and give it more legal and institutional power and authority to root out those unjust tendencies. The ECI must be granted powers to discipline the errant politicians who are transgressing and breaching the voting process and code of conduct.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q.1. What are the advantages of using EVM’s?
Electronic Voting Machines (EVM’s) have been widely used in important constituencies in restricted areas and also, in by-elections. Throughout the Goswami Committee deliberations, any questions regarding this technology were amply removed. Not only were the EVMs satisfactorily demonstrated to all representatives of parliament, but many electronic experts from the Indian government also testified that the devices could be used without any lingering doubts at all the elections. The benefits of EVMs are very evident in preventing large-scale rigging as the system locks up and will allow just one hit every several seconds. Wherever such EVMs were used in urban and rural areas, there were no large-scale rigging reports.
Q.2. What are the successes and failures of ECI?
Thirteen general elections to Lok Sabha and a much greater number to various State Legislative Assemblies have been held over the last half-a-century. We should take genuine pride in the fact that these were successful and widely accepted as free and equal. But the experience has also brought many misconceptions to the fore, some very severe, which in many quarters has created a profound concern. Links to the toxic position of financial influence, muscle strength, and mob control and criminalization, racism, communitarianism, caste system, and corruption are frequent.
- Constitutional Law of India by J N Pandey, Central Law Agency.