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Statutory Institutions/Commissions: Election Commission

India is recognized as a socialist, secular and democratic Republic nation in the World. The contemporary Indian nation state came into existence on 15th of August 1947. After independence, free and fair elections have been held at regular intervals according to the norms preserved in the Constitution, Electoral Laws and System.

The Constitution of India has decentralized in the Election Commission of India, the superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for conducting of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State and to the offices of President and Vice-President of India.

Election Commission of India is a stable Constitutional Body. The Election Commission was established in agreement with the Constitution on 25th January 1950. The Commission celebrated its fifty years in 2001. It is documented that the Election Commission of India is an independent constitutional authority accountable for running election processes to Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, state legislatures, and the offices of the President and Vice President in India. The Election Commission operates under the authority of Constitution, and consequently enacted Representation of the People Act. The Supreme Court of India has held that where the enacted laws are silent or make unsatisfactory provision to deal with a given situation in the conduct of elections, the Election Commission has the residuary powers under the Constitution to act in proper way.

Initially, the commission had only a Chief Election Commissioner. Presently, it consists of Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners. For the first time two additional Commissioners were appointed on 16th October 1989 but they had a very short tenure till 1st January 1990. Later on, in 1st October 1993, two additional Election Commissioners were appointed. The concept of multi-member Commission has been in operation since then, with decision making power by majority vote.

Election Commission of India is located in New Delhi, capital of India. The President of India has authority to appoint Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners. They have tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. They have the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India. The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through accusation by Parliament.

In democratic nation like India, numerous factors have contributed for the success over the last fifty years. Periodic national and assembly elections, under the supervision of Election Commission of India, are a strong pointer of the success of a functioning democracy. According to Manoranjan Mohanty, "Over the past 50 years,", "the elections have been by and large free and fair. There has been peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another. This is a crucial test for the functioning of liberal democracy".

Another researcher, Atul Kohli's idea about successful democracy of India also originates from the success of periodic elections "in which all political offices are contested, and in which all adults are qualified to vote"

The importance of elections in democracy is equally highlighted by T.N. Seshan, the former Chief Election Commissioner of India. He wrote that, "The only way in which you can establish democracy by the will of the people and by the conduct of a free and fair election". Ramashray Roy said that the successful working of formal democracy depends on a set of three basic conditions:

First, the mandate for governance must come from the people and must be given freely.

Secondly, political leaders and activists must agree on the democratic rules of the games and compete among themselves for capturing political power.

Lastly, there must exist a general acceptance of norms as well as institutional structure that will enable competing political parties to maintain and preserve democracy.

The independence of Election Commission to operate its functions and responsibilities is safeguarded by an express provision in Article 324(5) of the Constitution. It states that the Chief Election Commissioner shall not be removed from his office except in like manner, and on the like grounds, as a Judge of the Supreme Court and the conditions of the service of the Chief Election Commissioner shall not be varied to his disadvantage during his tenure. It means that the Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through impeachment by Parliament. They gain the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India.

Service conditions of Chief Election Commissioner:

Chief Election Commissioner shall be appointed for a term of 6 years or till he attains an age of 65 years. Below are the service conditions of Chief Election Commission of India:

  1. He is ineligible for reappointment after his retirement.
  2. He is ineligible to hold any office of profit under the State after his retirement.
  3. His salary, allowances and pensions are charged under Consolidated Fund of India (CFI).
  4. His salaries, allowances and pensions cannot be reduced except during a financial emergency.
  5. He is not eligible to hold any office of profit after his retirement.

Function of election commission:

The Election Commission is considered as the protector of impartial elections. In every election, it issues a Model code of Conduct for political parties and candidates to conduct elections in a free and fair manner. The Commission issued the code for the first time in 1971 (5th Election) and reviewed it from time to time. It lay down strategies for conduct of political parties and candidates during elections. Nevertheless, there are instances of violation of code by the political parties and complaints are received for misuse of official machinery by the candidates. The need for such code is in the interest of free and fair elections. However, the code does not have any specific statutory basis. It has only an influential effect. It contains "rules of electoral morality". But this lack of statutory backing does not prevent the Commission from enforcing it.

A law related to the registration process for political parties was enacted in 1989 and number of parties got registered with the Commission.

It helps to avoid confusion of the administrative machinery and the electorate and ensures that political parties are brought under the purview of the election commission.

To eliminate the rising influences and ill-mannered show of money during elections, the Election Commission has made many suggestions in this regard. The Election Commission has fixed the legal limits on the amount of money which a candidate can spend during election campaigns. These limits have been reviewed from time to time. The Election Commission by appointing observers closely monitor the individual account of election expenditure. The contestants are also required to give details of expenditure within 30 days of declaration of results. The campaign period was reduced by the Election Commission from 21 to 14 days for Lok Sabha and Assembly elections to trim down election expenditure. Furthermore, Election Commission takes details of the candidate's assets on affidavit at the time of submitting nomination paper. The Commission can issue an order for prohibition of publication and disseminating of results of opinion polls or exit polls.

Major functions of the ECI are as under:

  1. Delimitation, revision and periodic re-demarcation of the constituencies general as well as reserved as directed by the President on the recommendation of the Parliament of India.
  2. Bring up-to-date and revision of electoral rolls for all elections to guarantee fair and free polling and avoid false voting.
  3. Recognition of political parties who contest elections at national and regional levels and giving them identity in terms of symbols, etc., to facilitate the mandate of the voters.
  4. Control of the actual conduct of polls through procedures like scrutiny of nomination papers, deposit of fee, campaign ethics, re-poll and counting, etc., in the interest of free and fair elections.
  5. Conduct of administration of election which includes complaints disposal, scrutiny of election expenses, and maintenance of poll peace and hearing of election petitions, appeals. It puts more quasi-judicial burden on the commission, because the courts are not allowed by the constitution to directly interfere in the conduct of elections. Nevertheless, the later appeals may go to the courts and the jurisdiction and verdicts or the commission may be challenged.

While doing these functions, the Election Commission of India has spread its tentacles too wide and its election administration at every bend of the electoral process has expanded the powers of the commission. For instance, the practice of sending observers to the constituencies and ordering re-poll on their advice make its role effective and all permeating. For smooth process of elections, the country has been divided into constituencies. The task of demarcating the constituencies is performed by a Delimitation Commission. The Election Commission has distributed the seats district-wise in each one of the states and directed the Chief Electoral Officers to prepare proposals for the physical demarcation of constituencies according to the prescribed criteria. The associations of Parliamentary Advisory Committees with the Delimitation Commission give priority to political considerations.

As a consequence of the recommendations of the Election Commission, the Parliament passed the Delimitation Act, 1952. This commission consists of three members, two to be nominated by the President from serving or retired judges of the Supreme Court or High Courts and the Chief Election Commissioner to be an ex officio member. A new part (Part-IV A) has been added to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 1951 on registration of political parties.

Section 29(A) provides for registration with the commission of associations and bodies of individual inhabitants of India as political parties for purpose of this Act. Since 1989, a recognized political party has been classified either as a National Party or a State Party under paragraph 7 of the Elections Symbol Order, 1968. The commission has mentioned certain symbols as reserved and as free.

The reserved symbols are only available for candidates sponsored by the known political parties and the free symbols are available to other candidates. The commission adjudicates upon disputes with regard to recognition of political parties and rival claims to a particular symbol for purposes of elections. The Supreme Court has held that the commission is a court for purposes of Article 136 while deciding such a disagreement.

The nomination papers of the candidates are accepted if found in order, or excluded otherwise. This duty is done by the returning officer who notifies to all the contesting candidates the date, time and place for the formal scrutiny of nomination papers. The returning officer decides the objections raised. He is also to see whether the requisite requirements of security deposit, election symbol, declaration of assets, election agent, etc., have also been fulfilled. He is authorized to reject the nomination papers if the candidate is not qualified or is disqualified to fill the seat under Articles 84, 102, 173 and 191; or Sections 33 and 34 of the Representation of the People's Act. The commission can order a re-poll for the whole electorate under compulsion of circumstances. Article 324 deliberates on the Election Commission necessary powers to cancel the poll because of hooliganism and interruption of law and order at the time of polling or counting of votes within 10 days from the last date of filing the returns.

The returning officer submits to the Election Commission a list of all the candidates and their agents. The commission evaluates the accounts and decides whether the returns are in proper form and whether they have been lodged in time. In case of default, it notifies the candidates or their agents of their disqualification by publishing these in the Official Paper. The Representation of the People Act was revised in 1988 to authorize the registration of political parties. The amendment has added a new Section (29-A) providing for such registration.

When viewing the nature of work, it is found that Election Commission of India should have three kinds of members from among judges, civil servants and former speakers of Parliament. The retired judges of Supreme Court, the former cabinet secretaries and the speakers of Lok Sabha should be entitled and the chairmanship should always go to the judiciary.

The commission should have mandatory power and evolve its own rules and regulations for conduct and superintendence of polls. The commission should guarantee that inner party democracy becomes a reality in respect of all recognized parties. The commission has already taken first major step to keep the offenders out of the precincts of Parliament and state legislatures.

The commission must reorganize and tighten the law, so that the law-breakers do not reach to the position of lawmakers. Anybody having a complaint against a political party, candidate, minister or official can approach the commission for its redressal. The Election Commission is the only appropriate agency for the removal of their electoral grievances and can render the requisite help and guidance in all matters pertaining to elections.

The role of commission is to develop a sense of faith that the people repose in its truthfulness. It should function independently and come heavily on the political parties indulging in rigging, booth capturing and other misconducts. An efficient and reformed Election Commission should use cybernetics and encourage new kind of electioneering through management information system.

It is observed that The Election Commission of India has been magnificently conducting national as well as state elections since 1952. In recent years, however, the Commission has started to play more active role to ensure greater participation of people in the political affairs. Late K.R. Narayanan, the former President of India praising the pro-active role of Election Commission quoted that "The Commission very quickly adapted itself to the changed political milieu that came about in the country. From a relatively passive role that it had played in the earlier years following our independence, it quickly responded and centre stage to play a vigorous, proactive role to ensure that the democratic process in the country remains, as was envisaged by all at the time of Independence, free and fair in both character and content".

The Election Commission and the Supreme Court are the two institutions that are highly respected from the citizens. Rudolf and Rudolf specified that "the Election commission joined the Supreme Court in improving the legal conditions that make representative government and democratic participation possible". According to them, Election Commission has also contributed to the making of a regulatory state in India. Election Commission's role in the success of India's Democracy is reflected in the writings of a political scientist, who says, "The Election Commission is the means to the end of a vivacious representative democracy".

To shield the genuine voters, the Commission has been asserting since 1993 on photo identity cards to be issued to all eligible voters. The former CEC, T.N. Sheshan issued a warning by appealing Rule 37 of Representation of People's Act that the Commission would not notify elections after January 1, 1995 in those places where photo identity cards were not issued. The CEC's order of 'no identity cards-no elections' became slightly contentious. The order of the Commission was challenged in the Supreme Court stating that right to vote is an essential component of democracy and procedural provision cannot be constructed to repudiate the substantive right to vote. The matter was finally resolved when the Commission gave an undertaking before the Court that it would not withhold elections. The present Chief Election Commissioner is also insistence on photo identity cards. B.B. tendon clarified before the recent Assembly election in West Bengal, Assam and Tamil Nadu that "those without photo identity cards will not be allowed to cast their votes in Assembly election" (Times of India, New Delhi, December 8, 2005).

The Election Commission is strict for the increasing role of criminals in politics gave criminal unfriendly interpretation to Section 8 of Representation of People Act, 1951. The Commission ordered that no convicted person will be allowed to contest elections even if an appeal against the conviction was pending in a high court or the person was on bail. The exception was given to sitting members of Parliament and State Legislatures. Accordingly, the Commission directed the returning officers to obtain sworn affidavits from candidates detailing whether the contestant had ever been convicted, nature of offence, punishment imposed, period of imprisonment and other relevant details. The returning officers were ordered to take note of the new legal position and decide about the validity of the candidature of participants.

The Commission also suggested that when a person is suspect of serious crimes and a court is prima facia satisfied about his involvement in the crime, he should be kept out of the electoral area as it would be a reasonable restriction in the interest of the public. And those accused of criminal wrongdoings carrying a sentence of five years or more be automatically ineligible to contest elections.

With the modernization in global climate, Election commission has also adopted advanced technology to conduct quick and smooth election in nation. The Election Commission of India made efforts to bring perfections in election procedures through using scientific and technological advancements. The introduction of "electronic voting machines", abbreviated as EVMs is one of the steps to modernize electoral process. The Election Commission has recommended the introduction of electronic voting machines with a view to reducing misconducts and also improving the efficiency of the voting process. On an experimental basis, the EVMs were first tried in the State of Kerala during the 1982 Legislative Assembly Elections. After the successful testing and long legal inquiries of the technological aspects of the machines, the EC took a historic decision to advance and start the use of electronic voting machines for certain Assembly elections in November 1998.

The Commission selected 16 Assembly constituencies in the States of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Union Territory of Delhi. Later, in the June 1999 Assembly elections, Goa became the first State to successfully use electronic voting machines in all its Assembly constituencies. In the 2004, Lok Sabha elections, the machines were used all over the country. It is a major inventiveness taken by the EC to make the electoral process simple, quick and uncomplicated. It has saved money, solved several logistical issues and also contributed to the conservation of environment through saving of paper. Other benefit of using this machines is that the counting of votes becomes more fast and accurate. Now, there are no invalid and wasted votes at all, as every vote recorded in the machine is accounted for in favor of the candidate for whom it was cast.

The Election Commission also use Information Technology for effective electoral management and administration. It launched a website of its own on February 28, 1998, www.eci.gov.in. This is now a good source to have accurate information about elections, election laws, manuals and handbooks published by the Election Commission. During the 1999, Lok Sabha elections, the Commission's Secretariat was directly connected with nearly 1500 counting centers across the country. The round-wise counting results were fed into the Commission's website from those counting centers. These results were instantly available throughout the world.

To bring transparency in the electoral process, the media, both electronic and print were encouraged and provided with facilities to report on the actual conduct of the poll and counting. The Commission had, in cooperation with the State owned media (Doordarshan and All India Radio) taken several ground-breaking and effective steps to create awareness among voters. All recognized national as well as State parties were allowed free access to the state-owned media on an extensive scale for their election crusade.

Another revolutionary step taken by election commission is a nationwide programme for the 'computerisation' of electoral rolls. It is to prevent impersonation of electors at the time of voting and to eliminate fake and fictitious entries into electoral rolls. The printed electoral rolls as well as CDs containing these rolls are available to the general public for sale and national and State parties are provided these free of cost after every revision of electoral rolls. The entire country's electoral rolls are available on its website. Karnataka became the first State to prepare electoral rolls with the photographs of voters in the 2008 elections. The State EC developed the electoral roll management software called 'STEERS' (State Enhanced Electoral Roll System) to stop duplication of voters' lists and to reject wrong addresses (The Hindu, 2008).

To summarize, the Election Commission conducts elections according to the predominant laws in India. The Election Commission is assigned with the job of safeguarding free and fair elections in India. The Election Commission of India, considered as a dominant non-partisan constitutional body, conducts the electoral exercise. It is the responsibility of the Election Commission of India to organize free and fair election for millions of voters with diverse socio-political and economic backgrounds. Currently, the role being played by the Election Commission of India ensures greater participation of people in political matters. The Commission is also profoundly concerned about criminalization and communalization of politics. With time, the Election Commission has reviewed policies and conducted numerous praiseworthy electoral reforms to support democracy and improve the impartiality in elections. These reforms are quite passable and excellent.