In a fresh push for pending electoral reforms, the Election Commission (EC) is learnt to have sought complete independence from government control at a meeting with the Law Secretary last month.
At the meeting with Law Secretary Suresh Chandra on January 21, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora is learnt to have reiterated the EC’s demand for constitutional protection for all three of its members.
Currently, only the CEC can be removed through impeachment. His two colleagues can be removed by the government on the recommendation of the CEC.
In addition, the poll panel also sought absolute financial freedom. Like the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), the EC wants its budget to be “charged” to the Consolidated Fund of India, as opposed to the current practice of being voted and approved by Parliament.
Long wait ahead for election reforms
Electoral reforms have been pending with successive governments for over two decades. Many of the proposed corrective steps aim at targeting corruption in electoral politics. While CEC Sunil Arora reiterated some of them last month, very little can be achieved before the Lok Sabha elections as most of the changes suggested by EC need an amendment to the Representation of the People Act.
In other words, currently, the Commission’s autonomy is not absolute since it is still dependent, although indirectly, on the government for funds and the fate of two of the three commissioners also rests with the Centre.
The meeting with the Law Secretary was the first called by the EC in over a year to discuss pending electoral reforms. No meeting was held when Arora’s predecessors, O P Rawat and A K Joti, were in office.
The Indian Express has learnt that apart from term protection for the two election commissioners and financial freedom, Arora also pressed for making paid news an electoral offence, increasing the current penalty for lying in a poll affidavit from six months to two years, imposing a cap on expenditure by candidates in Legislative Council elections and reducing the number of star campaigners permitted for national (40) and state parties (20) in a bypoll.
Currently, there is no limit on how much a candidate can spend when contesting Legislative Council polls. Only Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana have Legislative Councils.