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EC Stature: Govt likely to emphasise EC stature same as SC judges

New Delhi: The Centre is exploring ways to underline and reassure that the status of the chief election commissioner remains equivalent to Supreme Court judges in the new bill before Parliament, while drawing a distinction between the status and the salary and emolument conditions of election commissioners.

ET has learn that discussions are underway at the highest level to make certain that the message from the proposed Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (appointment, conditions of service and term of office) Bill, 2023, is not one of downgrading the stature of EC, which has a quasi judicial role.

The Centre is also looking to state emphatically in the legislation – lined up for passage in the Parliament session – that the bill clearly retains the same protection from removal as available to SC judges and to CEC/ECs under Article 324 of the Constitution and hence the same stature as SC judges.

The current controversy emanates from Clause 10 of the bill that states that the salary, allowances and other conditions of service of CEC and other ECs “shall be the same as those of the Cabinet Secretary”. Currently, these are same as that of a Supreme Court judge.

The move to revisit the bill comes amid several former CECs terming the move as ‘retrograde’ and one that would end up diminishing the ‘moral stature’ of the EC, as first reported by ET on August 25. Several former CECs have written to the Centre this weekend expressing concern over the change in EC stature.

Matter of perception
“There is a single issue taken up in the communication – that of taking away the equivalence of the CEC/EC with a Supreme Court judge. While in terms of salary, there is hardly any difference in that of the CEC and Cabinet Secretary, it is the perception that matters here. While the government has said that there is no change made in the warrant of precedence, the public perception will be entirely different and that is the issue of deep worry,” a former CEC and signatory to the communication told ET.

“Constitutional provisions have kept the office of the ECI at an exalted position given its mandate and have never been modified for the same reason. The ECI and the CAG are the only two constitutional bodies that are kept on parity with the SC judge, to ensure such a status for them. That is why this change is a worrying signal,” the representation is said to convey.

Another former CEC and a signatory to the communication told ET that the bill’s provisions on equivalence are in contradiction to constitutional provisions and hence it is ‘ab initio, a bad law’. Article 324 of the Constitution states that the process of removal of a CEC is the same as that of a SC judge – implying clear equivalence, he points out.

Another CEC that ET spoke to termed the move “against national interest” and one that will “impinge on EC’s autonomy” and also on democratic principles of ensuring the conduct of a “free and fair election”.

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