Issues with the functioning of Election Commission

2021 OCT 22

Mains   > Polity   >   Election   >   Election Commission


  • The recent state Assembly Elections have raised a debate on whether the Election Commission of India needs to be further strengthened as an independent institution or whether political actors voluntarily need to be more rule abiding, which was the basis on which the Model Code of Conduct was adopted in 1962.


  • Election Commission is a permanent and an independent body established by the Constitution of India directly to ensure free and fair elections in the country.
  • Article 324 of the Constitution provides that the power of superintendence, direction and control of elections to parliament, state legislatures, the office of president of India and the office of vice president of India shall be vested in the election commission.


  • Article 324 of the Constitution has made the following provisions with regard to the composition of election commission:
    • The Election Commission shall consist of the chief election commissioner and such number of other election commissioners, if any, as the president may from time to time fix.
    • The appointment of the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners shall be made by the president.
    • When any other election commissioner is so appointed, the chief election commissioner shall act as the chairman of the election commission.
    • The president may also appoint after consultation with the election commission such regional commissioners as he may consider necessary to assist the election commission.
    • The conditions of service and tenure of office of the election commissioners and the regional commissioners shall be determined by the president.
  • The chief election commissioner and the two other election commissioners have equal powers and receive equal salary, allowances and other perquisites, which are similar to those of a judge of the Supreme Court.
  • In case of difference of opinion amongst the Chief election commissioner and/or two other election commissioners, the matter is decided by the Commission by majority.
  • They hold office for a term of six years or until they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • They can resign at any time or can also be removed before the expiry of their term


  • Administrative functions:
    • To determine the territorial areas of the electoral constituencies throughout the country on the basis of the Delimitation Commission Act of Parliament
    • To prepare and periodically revise electoral rolls and to register all eligible voters.
    • To notify the dates and schedules of elections and to scrutinise nomination papers.
    • To grant recognition to political parties and allot election symbols to them
    • To prepare a roster for publicity of the policies of the political parties on radio and TV in times of elections.
    • To request the president or the governor for requisitioning the staff necessary for conducting elections.
    • To supervise the machinery of elections throughout the country to ensure free and fair elections.
    • To register political parties for the purpose of elections and grant them the status of national or state parties on the basis of their poll performance
  • Quasi-Judicial functions:
    • To act as a court for settling disputes related to granting of recognition to political parties and allotment of election symbols to them.
    • To appoint officers for inquiring into disputes relating to electoral arrangements.
    • To determine the code of conduct to be observed by the parties and the candidates at the time of elections.
    • To cancel polls in the event of rigging, booth capturing, violence and other irregularities
  • Advisory functions:
    • To advise the president on matters relating to the disqualifications of the members of Parliament.
    • To advise the governor on matters relating to the disqualifications of the members of state legislature.
    • To advise the president whether elections can be held in a state under president’s rule in order to extend the period of emergency after one year.



  • Security of tenure:
    • The chief election commissioner is provided with the security of tenure
    • He cannot be removed from his office except in same manner and on the same grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court.
    • In other words, he can be removed by the president on the basis of a resolution passed to that effect by both the Houses of Parliament with special majority, either on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.
    • Thus, he does not hold his office till the pleasure of the president, though he is appointed by him.
    • But no such protections are available to other election commissioners. They can be removed from office with the recommendation of the chief election commissioner.
  • Service conditions cannot be changed:
    • The service conditions of the chief election commissioner cannot be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment.


  • Executive influence on appointment:
    • The Election Commissioners are appointed by the current government and they might feel obliged to the government or the government might feel that they should be beholden.
    • The government continues to appoint election commissioners on its own in spite of the fact that multiple committees and commissions, even the Law Ministry and ECI, have since then sought a legal framework to make their appointments bipartisan, consultative and broad-based.
  • Limited safeguard under Constitution to ensure independence of election commissioners:
    • Qualification not prescribed:
      • The Constitution has not prescribed the qualifications of the members of the Election Commission.
    • Tenure not mentioned:
      • The Constitution has not specified the term of the members of the Election Commission.
    • Re-appointment or further appointment not prohibited:
      • The Constitution has not debarred the retiring election commissioners from any further appointment by the government.
  • Security of tenure is not available to election commissioners:
    • Removal of the Election Commissioners does not require such a process of impeachment and can be removed simply by the government in power with recommendation of the chief election commissioner, making them vulnerable, and affecting their ability to act independently.
  • EC is depend on centre government in financial matters:
    • In spite of the inclusion of several provisions aimed at making the ECI as an independent body, it is still dependent on the Union Government for financial matters. The expenses of EC are not charged upon Consolidated Fund of India.
  • Bureaucratization of Election Commission:
    • The ECI does not have independent staff of its own so whenever elections take place, it has to depend upon staff of Central and State Governments >> hence the dual responsibility of the administrative staff, to the government for ordinary administration and to the ECI for electoral administration is not conducive to the impartial and efficient functioning of the Commission.
  • Confusion regarding power of ECI in enforcing Model Code of Conduct (MCC):
    • MCC does not have any statutory backing
    • There is no clarity regarding the extent and nature of the powers which are available to the ECI in enforcing the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) as well as its other decisions in relation to an election.
  • Issues with exercise of powers by the ECI under Article 324:
    • Transfer of officials:
      • There are instances of abrupt transfer of senior officials working under State governments by an order of the commission
      • Transfer of an official is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the government. Some argues that transfer of officials is governed by rules made under Article 309 of the Constitution which cannot be bypassed by the ECI.
      • Therefore it is actually not clear whether the ECI can transfer a State government official in exercise of the general powers under Article 324 or under the model code.
    • ECI’s intervention in the administrative decisions:
      • No government is allowed by the ECI to take any action, administrative or otherwise, if the ECI believes that such actions or decisions will affect free and fair elections.
      • This may negatively affect the essential service delivery mechanism of the government
      • For example: EC prohibited food kit distribution during 2021 Kerala Legislative Assembly election
  • Limited power to regulate political parties:
    • Despite being the enrolling authority under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, EC cannot deregister political parties in any event, for the gravest of infringement.
    • The ECI has no power in enforcing inner-party democracy and regulation of party finances.
  • Executive influence in operations:
    • For example: ECI utilizes Central Armed Police Forces, which falls under the Union Home Ministry, instead of local police service for security is to keep state elections away from local influences and thereby ensuring neutrality to the political parties. But recently there are allegations that Central Armed Police Forces are acting under influence of the ruling party at the Centre.


  • Transparency in appointment:
    • A collegium system of appointment (as suggested by Tarkunde Committee, 1975 and the Goswami Committee, 1990) should be considered.
      • Suggestions of Goswami Committee report
        • It suggested that the CEC should be appointed by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha
        • Moreover it suggested that the CEC should be additionally consulted for appointment of other ECs and that the entire process should have statutory backing.
      • Suggestions of Second Administrative Reforms Commission of 2007:
        • 2nd ARC suggested that a collegium consisting of the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Law Minister and Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha should make recommendations to the President for appointment.
    • This will weaken the influence of the government over the President’s choice of Election Commissioners.
    • This could also bring more transparency in the appointment process.
    • Law Commission in its 255th report on electoral reforms (2015) recommended for the constitution of a selection committee for appointment of members of EC.
  • Protections to ECs on par with CEC:
    • There must be similar election and removal procedures for CEC and ECs, and they must exercise the same powers unless specifically prescribed by law.
  • Financial independence:
    • Also, the expenses of ECI must be charged on the Consolidated Fund of India.
  • Permanent staff for operational independence:
    • Create a permanent, independent secretariat for the ECI to protect its staff from various pulls and pressures from the executive.
    • The Goswami Committee recommended an arrangement similar to that of the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha secretariat provided in Article 98(2), which permits the Parliament to regulate the recruitment and service conditions of persons appointed to the secretarial staff in either House of Parliament.


  • South Africa:
    • Election Commissioners are designated by the President on the suggestions of the National Assembly
  • Canada:
    • Election commissioners are recommended by House of Commons and they have a non-inexhaustible ten-year term
    • Moreover to shield their freedom from the administration, he/she reports straight to Parliament.
  • US:
    • The six Federal Election Commissioners are delegated by the President with the counsel and assent of the Senate.


Q. “Election Commission of India needs to be insulated from the executive influence through drastic reforms”. Comment