Govt puts off action on CEC letters

The UPA government has decided not to take any “immediate” action on two letters written by Chief Election Commissioner....

Written by Maneesh Chhibber | New Delhi | Published: February 11, 2009 11:07:43 pm

The UPA government has decided not to take any “immediate” action on two letters written by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) N Gopalaswami to the President on January 16 highlighting the need for initiating steps to ensure the election panel’s neutrality and independence.

In one of his letters,Gopalaswami requested an amendment to rules so that no retired CEC or EC can join any political party for 10 years after demitting office.

According to sources,while Union Law Secretary T K Vishwanathan is still to submit his report on the first letter of the CEC which recommended removal of Election Commissioner Navin Chawla for his alleged “partisan” conduct,the Law Ministry has quietly referred the remaining two letters to the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law,Justice and Personnel for studying the same.

This,senior officers acknowledged,ensured that the government would not have to take any final decision on the CEC’s recommendations before the end of its term.

The decision to refer the two letters to the Parliamentary panel,sources said,had been taken on the directions of Law Minister H R Bhardwaj,who,incidentally,junked the CEC’s recommendation even before Vishwanathan got a chance to go through the contents of the letter containing the recommendation.

“We have referred the two letters to the panel to study the same as part of its ongoing exercise to suggest electoral reforms. As for acting on the recommendations,the government’s position is that there needs to be political consensus before anything can be done on such issues,” said a senior officer.

Rajya Sabha member E M S Natchiappan,chairman of the parliamentary Committee,confirmed that the panel had received the two letters. “We will examine the letters at our next meeting and decide on the future course of action,” Natchiappan told The Indian Express.

In his two letters,Gopalaswami has raised important issues concerning the appointment procedure for the ECs. He also suggested that restrictions be imposed on retired CECs and ECs taking up post-retirement jobs in the government or taking up politics as a career.

Gopalaswami said with single-party governments no longer the norm,the role of the EC as a neutral umpire providing a level playing field had assumed ever greater importance.

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