In a diverse and vibrant democracy like India, elections serve as the cornerstone of the nation’s political landscape. The Election Commission of India (ECI), established in 1950, is the constitutional authority responsible for conducting free, fair, and impartial elections across the country. As an autonomous and revered institution, the ECI plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the democratic fabric of India remains intact.
In this blog, we will delve deeper into the functioning, responsibilities, and achievements of the Election Commission of India. We will explore the ECI’s journey of empowering democracy, discuss the challenges that it faces in a diverse and populous nation like India, and highlight the innovative measures it has taken to overcome these obstacles.
Table of contents:
- About Election Commission of India
- Structure of the Election Commission of India
- Powers of the Election Commission of India
- Key Roles and Responsibilities of the ECI
- Significant Contributions of ECI in empowering Indian democracy
- How Much is the Tenure of the Election Commissioner?
- What is the Role of the Chief Election Commissioner of India?
- Can the Chief Election Commissioner of India be Removed from Office?
- The Polling Process
- Electoral Policies to Combat Corruption in Elections
- Importance of Election Commission of India
- What are the Challenges Faced by the Election Commission of India?
- What Steps Should Be Taken Moving Forward?
About Election Commission of India
- The Election Commission of India is a constitutional body established to conduct and regulate elections in the country. It works for both the central and state governments.
- Article 324 of the Constitution grants the Election Commission the power to supervise and control elections of parliament, state legislatures, the president’s office, and the vice president’s office.
- The commission administers elections for various positions, including the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies, State Legislative Councils, and the offices of the President and Vice President.
- The Election Commission operates under the authority of the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act.
- The commission has the power to act appropriately when existing laws are insufficient to handle specific situations during an election.
- The Election Commission is a permanent constitutional body.
Structure of the Election Commission of India
After the initial establishment of the Election Commission as a multi-member body with 3 election commissioners, there were changes to its composition. In January 1990, the two posts of election commissioners were eliminated, returning the Election Commission to its previous structure. However, in October 1993, two more election commissioners were appointed by the president, once again making the Election Commission a multi-member body with 3 commissioners.
Both the Chief Election Commissioner and the two other election commissioners hold equal powers and receive the same emoluments, including salaries comparable to those of a Supreme Court judge. In cases where there is a difference of opinion among the Chief Election Commissioner and/or the two other election commissioners, a majority decision is reached by the Commission.
The tenure of the office is for 6 years or until the commissioners reach the age of 65, whichever comes first. They also have the option to be removed or resign before the completion of their term.
The commission’s secretariat is located in New Delhi. The Election Commissioners are assisted by Deputy Election Commissioners, who are usually IAS officers. Directors General, Principal Secretaries, and Secretaries and Under Secretaries also provide assistance to the commission. At the state level, the Chief Electoral Officer, an IAS officer of Principal Secretary rank, assists the Election Commission. At the district and constituency levels, the District Magistrates (as District Election Officers), Electoral Registration Officers, and Returning Officers handle election work.
Powers of the Election Commission of India
The Election Commission of India possesses various powers, outlined as below:
- Delimitation of electoral constituencies: The Election Commission of India is responsible for determining the territorial areas of electoral constituencies throughout the country, in accordance with the Delimitation Commission Act passed by Parliament.
- Announcement of election schedules: The Election Commission of India announces the schedules and dates for elections, and it scrutinizes nomination papers submitted by candidates.
- Dispute resolution: The Election Commission of India functions as a court to settle disputes regarding the recognition of political parties and the allocation of electoral symbols to these parties.
- Advising the President and Governor: The Election Commission of India provides advice to the President of India on matters pertaining to the disqualification of Members of Parliament (MPs) and advises the Governor on issues related to the disqualification of Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
- Power to cancel polls: In the event of booth capture, violence, or other issues that compromise the integrity of the electoral process, the Election Commission of India has the authority to cancel polls.
- Monitoring electoral machinery: The Election Commission of India monitors the functioning of the electoral machinery throughout the country to ensure that elections are conducted freely and fairly.
- Registration and status of political parties: The Election Commission of India registers political parties and assigns them a national or state party status based on their performance in election polls.
- Electoral roll management: The Election Commission of India creates and updates electoral rolls on a regular basis, enrolling eligible voters to ensure their participation in the electoral process.
- Addressing election complaints: The Election Commission of India appoints officials to investigate and address complaints related to election arrangements and ensures that appropriate actions are taken.
- Promoting political parties: The Election Commission of India facilitates the promotion of policies and messages of political parties on radio and television during election campaigns.
Key Roles and Responsibilities of the ECI
The Election Commission of India (ECI) plays a vital role in the democratic processes of the country. Here are some key roles and responsibilities of the ECI:
- Conducting elections: The Election Commission of India (ECI) is entrusted with the responsibility of conducting elections at various levels, including national, state, and local elections. It is accountable for overseeing the entire election process, from announcing the dates to declaring the results.
- Voter registration: To ensure that eligible citizens can exercise their right to vote, the ECI facilitates the voter registration process. It organizes voter registration drives, updates voter lists, and issues voter identification cards to eligible individuals.
- Electoral boundaries: With the aim of ensuring fair and balanced representation, the ECI delimits electoral boundaries. It periodically reviews and revises constituency boundaries based on population changes, striving to maintain a roughly equal number of voters in each constituency.
- Election schedule: The ECI determines the schedule for elections, which includes announcing dates for filing nominations, polling, and vote counting. It ensures that the entire electoral process is conducted within a reasonable timeframe.
- Model code of conduct: In order to uphold ethical standards and fair practices during elections, the ECI enforces a Model Code of Conduct. This code governs the behavior of political parties and candidates, preventing misuse of power or unfair advantage.
- Electoral laws and rules: The ECI formulates and enforces electoral laws and rules that govern the conduct of elections. It strives to ensure transparency, fairness, and adherence to the constitution and relevant legislation throughout the electoral process.
- Election observers: The ECI deploys election observers to monitor the conduct of elections. These observers oversee polling stations, observe the vote-counting process, and report any irregularities or violations to the ECI.
- Voter education: Recognizing the significance of an informed and active citizenry, the ECI conducts voter education programs. These programs aim to raise awareness among citizens about the importance of voting and their rights as voters, ultimately aiming to increase voter turnout and promote informed decision-making.
- Political party recognition: The ECI grants recognition to political parties based on specific criteria. It ensures that recognized parties adhere to financial disclosure requirements, follow the code of conduct, and meet other eligibility criteria to participate in elections.
- Election security: Collaborating with law enforcement agencies, the ECI prioritizes the security of the electoral process. It takes measures to prevent electoral malpractices, maintain law and order during elections, and provide a safe and secure environment for voters.
Significant Contributions of ECI in empowering Indian democracy
Safeguarding Democratic Values
- The ECI is entrusted with the crucial responsibility of conducting elections at various levels, including state legislatures, parliament, president, vice-president, and local governing bodies.
- Its primary objective is to uphold democratic values by ensuring the electoral process remains unbiased, transparent, and representative of the people’s will.
Ensuring Fair Elections
- The ECI is committed to creating a level playing field for all political parties and candidates.
- It enforces the Model Code of Conduct, a comprehensive set of ethical guidelines that govern the behavior of political parties and candidates during elections.
- Voter Education and Participation:
- The ECI focuses on increasing voter awareness and participation through robust voter education programs.
- Initiatives such as voter registration drives, awareness campaigns, and the introduction of technology-driven tools like Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) systems aim to empower citizens and enhance their active engagement in the electoral process.
- The ECI has embraced technological advancements to streamline the electoral process and ensure accuracy and efficiency.
- Electronic voting machines (EVMs) have revolutionized voting, providing a secure and reliable method for casting and counting votes.
Independence and Impartiality
- The ECI operates as an autonomous constitutional body, free from external influences.
- Its impartiality and integrity are essential in building trust and confidence in the electoral process among all stakeholders.
Election Monitoring and Enforcement
- The ECI monitors elections through a comprehensive framework of rules, regulations, and guidelines.
- It takes proactive measures to prevent electoral malpractices, promote ethical conduct, and address any violations promptly.
How Much is the Tenure of the Election Commissioner?
The Indian Constitution does not specify the tenure of election commissioners. However, according to the 1991 Election Commission Act, the Chief Election Commissioner or an Election Commissioner can hold office for a maximum of six years or until they reach the age of 65, whichever comes earlier. This term is counted from the date they assume their office.
What is the Role of the Chief Election Commissioner of India?
The Election Commission of India, headed by the Chief Election Commissioner, is responsible for conducting fair and unbiased elections for the national and state legislatures, as well as the positions of President and Vice-President. The authority of the Election Commission is derived from Article 324 of the Constitution of India. The Chief Election Commissioner is typically a member of the Indian Civil Service, often from the Indian Administrative Service. Once appointed by the President, it is challenging to remove the Chief Election Commissioner, as it requires a two-thirds majority vote in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha for disorderly conduct or improper actions.
India was an early adopter of electronic voting, implementing it nationwide during the parliamentary elections in 2014. This was a significant achievement considering India’s large and diverse population, which includes many rural areas with illiterate citizens.
The importance of the Chief Election Commissioner’s office in the Indian political process became widely recognized during the tenure of T.N. Seshan, from 1990 to 1996. Seshan is renowned for his determined efforts to combat corruption and manipulation in Indian elections, earning him significant public attention and praise.
Can the Chief Election Commissioner of India be Removed from Office?
The Chief Election Commissioner of India can be removed from their position in a similar manner to the removal of a judge of the Supreme Court. This requires a resolution passed by the Parliament of India with a two-thirds majority in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The grounds for removal are proven misbehavior or incapacity. It is important to note that no Chief Election Commissioner has ever been impeached in India.
On the other hand, other Election Commissioners can be removed by the President of India based on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner. However, it is worth mentioning that this provision has rarely been invoked.
In 2009, before the Lok Sabha Elections, Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami recommended the removal of Election Commissioner Navin Chawla. The reason behind this recommendation was Chawla’s upcoming appointment as the chief election commissioner and the potential conflict of interest due to his perceived partisan political party behavior. However, the President of India, Prathibha Patil, opined that such a recommendation was not binding on the president and rejected it. After Gopalaswami’s retirement the following month, Chawla assumed the position of chief election commissioner and supervised the 2009 Lok Sabha general elections.
The Polling Process
The polling process is a fundamental component of elections. Here’s a glimpse into the key stages of the polling process:
- Filing of Nominations: Candidates interested in contesting elections submit their nomination forms within the specified timeframe. The ECI scrutinizes the nominations to ensure compliance with legal requirements.
- Campaigning Period: Candidates engage in election campaigning to reach out to voters, present their agendas, and persuade them to vote. However, campaigning must adhere to the guidelines set by the ECI and the Model Code of Conduct.
- Polling Day: On the designated polling day, eligible voters visit their assigned polling stations to cast their votes. Polling stations are set up across the constituency to facilitate smooth voting.
- Vote Counting: After the conclusion of polling, the ECI oversees the process of counting votes. Counting centers are established, and representatives from political parties and election observers are present to ensure transparency.
Electoral Policies to Combat Corruption in Elections
Corruption poses a significant threat to the integrity of electoral processes and undermines the foundations of democracy. To ensure fair and transparent elections, governments and election commissions around the world have implemented various electoral policies aimed at combating corruption.
I. Legal Framework for Anti-Corruption Measures:
- Enact strong anti-corruption laws specifically targeting electoral offenses.
- Mandate transparency and disclosure of campaign finances.
- Establish independent anti-corruption bodies to investigate and prosecute electoral corruption cases.
II. Strengthening Electoral Governance:
- Ensure independence of election management bodies from political interference.
- Implement transparent electoral financing regulations.
- Reform voter registration systems to prevent fraud.
III. Civic Engagement and Awareness:
- Conduct comprehensive voter education programs to promote informed participation.
- Provide whistleblower protection to encourage reporting of corrupt activities.
- Foster civil society and media engagement in monitoring and reporting election irregularities.
Also Read: List of Documents Required for Voter ID Card
Importance of Election Commission of India
The Election Commission of India has played a crucial role in successfully organizing national and state elections since 1952. Today, it actively works towards promoting greater participation of people in the electoral process. The Commission has effectively instilled discipline among political parties by threatening derecognition if they fail to uphold inner-party democracy. It upholds the constitutional values of equality, equity, impartiality, independence, and the rule of law in its supervision, direction, and control over electoral governance.
The Election Commission ensures that elections are conducted with the highest standards of credibility, fairness, transparency, integrity, accountability, autonomy, and professionalism. It strives to create an inclusive and voter-centric environment, ensuring the participation of all eligible citizens. The Commission engages with political parties and all stakeholders to serve the best interests of the electoral process. It also plays a crucial role in raising awareness about the electoral process and governance among stakeholders, including political parties, voters, election functionaries, candidates, and the general public. These efforts aim to enhance confidence and trust in the electoral system of India.
What are the Challenges Faced by the Election Commission of India?
- The Election Commission of India struggles to curb increased violence and electoral malpractices driven by monetary influence, resulting in the criminalization of politics.
- The Commission lacks adequate authority and resources to effectively regulate political parties, including enforcing inner-party democracy and regulating party finances.
- There are concerns about the diminishing independence of the Election Commission from the Executive, which has had a negative impact on its reputation.
- Allegations of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) malfunctioning, hacking, or failing to register votes have significantly eroded public trust in the Election Commission.
What Steps Should Be Taken Moving Forward?
- The Election Commission should remain vigilant and closely monitor any collusion within lower levels of civil and police bureaucracy that may favor the ruling party. This will help maintain the integrity and impartiality of the electoral process.
- To regain public trust amidst controversies surrounding Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), the Commission should increase the deployment of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail System (VVPATs) in more constituencies.
- There is a need to provide stronger legal support to the Commission’s mandate and the processes that facilitate its functioning. This will enhance its effectiveness and ensure the smooth conduct of elections.
- It is crucial to establish safeguards that ensure ethical and capable individuals hold leadership positions in public institutions, including the Election Commission. This will help maintain the credibility and effectiveness of the Commission.
- The 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) report recommended the establishment of a collegium headed by the Prime Minister, with the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Law Minister, and the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha as members. This collegium would make recommendations to the President for the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners. This proposal should be considered to enhance the selection process for these positions and ensure competent leadership within the Commission.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) is instrumental in ensuring the integrity of elections and upholding democratic principles. Through its efforts in conducting fair elections, promoting voter education, and implementing anti-corruption measures, the ECI plays a vital role in empowering citizens and strengthening the democratic fabric of the nation.