Watch | How were the new Election Commissioners selected, and why is the new law being criticized?

Watch | How were the new Election Commissioners selected, and why is the new law being criticized?

Watch | How were the new Election Commissioners selected, and why is the new law being criticized?

On March 14, two retired bureaucrats, Gyanesh Kumar and Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, were appointed as Election Commissioners, just two days ahead of the announcement of the dates of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

They are now part of the three member Election Commission of India panel, headed by Rajiv Kumar, the Chief Election Commissioner.

The two officials are the first to be appointed under the new law governing appointments to the constitutional body, the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023.

What is the new law?

Under the new law, the two commissioners were selected by a three-member Selection Committee, comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and the Leader of the Indian National Congress in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, as leader of the largest party in the Opposition.

They were chosen out of a shortlisted panel of six names. The shortlisting was done by a search committee which, according to the Act, is headed by the Union Minister for Law and Justice and includes two officials of the rank of Secretary to the government.

What was the process before this?

For nearly 40 years from the adoption of the Constitution, the EC only had a Chief Election Commissioner. The Constitution does not lay down a specific legislative process for the appointment of the Chief election commissioner and Election Commissioners.

Article 324 of the Constitution says the Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may fix from time to time. This provision was subject to any law made in that behalf by Parliament.

In the absence of any particular process being laid down by parliamentary law, the President has been appointing the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners. The only known process is that the Law Ministry puts up a panel of names to the Prime Minister, who recommends the appointment of one of them as Election Commissioner to the President.

It had become a convention to appoint officials as Election Commissioners first and then, on the completion of the tenure of the Chief Election Commissioner, the senior Election Commissioner was elevated as the Chief Election Commissioner.

Why are the latest appointments being criticized?

Earlier this month, the two vacancies sprung up following the retirement of Anup Chandra Pandey, and the resignation of Arun Goel.

When Goel took over the post in 2022, it came in the midst of a Constitution Bench hearing for a truly independent process of selecting members of the panel that conducts and supervises India’s elections.

The foremost criticism from those who have challenged the new Act is that it has removed the Chief Justice of India from the selection panel and has made a Union Minister a member instead. This gives the executive a two-one majority in the three-member committee.

To understand the differences between the two appointment procedures, and the Supreme Court angle, we spoke to K. Venkataramanan, Senior Associate Editor of The Hindu.

Read more: How were the new Election Commissioners selected? | Explained

Reporting: K. Venkataramanan

Videography: Shikha Kumari

Production and voiceover: Yuvasree S.

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