Election Commission of India
There is an Election Commission of India at National level and State Election Commissions at State level to administer the electoral process in India. The Election Commission of India is an autonomous, constitutionally established federal authority responsible for administering all the electoral processes in the Republic of India. Under the supervision of the commission, free and fair elections have been held in India at regular intervals as per the principles enshrined in the Constitution. The Election Commission has the power of superintendence, direction and control of all elections to the Parliament of India and the state legislatures and of elections to the office of the President of India and the Vice-President of India. Elections are conducted according to the constitutional provisions, supplemented by laws made by Parliament. The major laws are Representation of the People Act, 1950, which mainly deals with the preparation and revision of electoral rolls, the Representation of the People Act, 1951 which deals, in detail, with all aspects of conduct of elections and post election disputes. The Supreme Court of India has held that where the enacted laws are silent or make insufficient provision to deal with a given situation in the conduct of elections, the Election Commission has the residuary powers under the Constitution to act in an appropriate manner.
State Election Commissions
The power of superintendence, direction and control of all elections to the Local Government(Village Panchayat,Block Panchayat,District Panchayat)/Municipal Corporation vest with the State Election Commissions as envisaged in Article 243(k) of the Constitution of India.The Constitutional (73rd Amendment) Act, passed in 1992 by the Narasimha Rao government, came into force on April 24, 1993. It was meant to provide constitutional sanction to establish “democracy at the grassroots level as it is at the state level or national level” The State Election Commissioner has several unique powers pertaining to the elections to Local Bodies, which include the following. SEC chairs the Delimitation Commission which delimits local government constituencies. He has full powers to conduct local government elections including disciplinary powers over staff who are on election duty. SEC assigns reserved posts and constituencies. SEC can disqualify candidates who do not submit election accounts. He can disqualify members found guilty of defection. He can disqualify elected representative who do not convene the Grama Sabha. In most of the States, the State Election Commissioners have the status equal to that of the High Court Judge.The State Election Commissioner of Kerala shall not be removed from his office except in the like manner and on the like grounds as a Judge of a High Court.
The Chief Election Commissioner of India can be removed from his office by Parliament with two-thirds majority in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on the grounds of proven misbehaviour or incapacity. Other Election Commissioners can be removed by the President on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner. The Chief Election Commissioner and the two Election Commissioners draw salaries and allowances at par with those of the Judges of the Supreme Court of India as per the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Conditions of Service) Rules, 1992.
Sukumar Sen was an Indian civil servant who was the first Chief Election Commissioner of India
Use of Scientific and Technological Advancements
The Election Commission had tried to bring improvements in election procedures by introduction of EVM – Electronic Voting Machines. It was thought that EVMs would reduce malpractices and improve efficiency. It was first tried out on an experimental basis in the state of Kerala for the 1982 Legislative Assembly Elections. After successful testing and legal inquires, the Commission took the decision to begin the use of EVMs.
The Election Commission launched a web site of its own on 28 February 1998. It helps to provide accurate information, management, administration and also instant results of the elections. In 1998, Election Commission decided on a programme for the ‘computerisation’ of the electoral rolls.
In an effort to prevent electoral fraud, in 1993 EPICs – Electorals Photo Identity Cards were issued. In the 2004 elections, it was mandatory to possess the card. But even ration cards and driving licenses is allowed to be used for election purposes.
Originally the commission had only a single Chief Election Commissioner. Two additional Commissioners were appointed to the commission for the first time on 16 October 1989, but they had a very short tenure—until 1 January 1990. The Election Commissioner Amendment Act, 1993 made the Election Commission a multi-member body. Later, on 1 October 1993, two additional Election Commissioners were appointed. The concept of a multi-member Commission has been in operation since then, with decision-making power by majority vote.
Functions and powers
Guardian of Free and Fair Elections
One of the most important features of the democratic polity is elections at regular intervals.
Democracy is the “Government of the people, By the people, And for the people”.
Holding periodic free & fair elections are essentials of democratic system. It is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution which has been held in T. N. Sheshan V/s Union of India. The Commission has taken many efforts for the success of elections and thereby democracy.
Model Code of Conduct
Election Commission of India’s Model Code of Conduct
The Election Commission is regarded as the guardian of free and fair elections. In every election, it issues a Model code of Conduct for political parties and candidates to conduct elections in a free and fair manner. The Commission issued the code for the first time in 1971 (5th Election) and revised it from time to time. It lay down guidelines for conduct of political parties & candidates during elections. However, there are instances of violation of code by the political parties and complaints are received for misuse of official machinery by the candidates.
In I.D. Systems (India) Pvt. Ltd. v/s. Chief Election Commissioner, the Kerala High Court held that the object of model code of conduct is not to stop all governmental activities but only those actions which may directly influence a section of electors need to be prevented.
The need for such code is in the interest of free and fair elections. However, the code does not have any specific statutory basis. It has only a persuasive effect. It contains what, known as “rules of electoral morality”. But this lack of statutory backing does not prevent the Commission from enforcing it.
Registration of Political Parties
A law regarding to this registration process was enacted in 1989 and number of parties got registered with the Commission. It helps to avoid confusion and headache of the administrative machinery as well as confusion of the electorate. It ensures that political parties can practice democracy only by their registration.
Limits on Poll Expenses
To get rid of the growing influences and vulgar show of money during elections the Election Commission has made many suggestions in this regard. The Election Commission has fixed the legal limits on the amount of money which a candidate can spend during election campaigns. These limits have been revised from time to time. The Election Commission by appointing observers keeps an eye on the individual account of election expenditure. The contestants are also required to give details of expenditure within 30 days of declaration of results. However, political parties do not adhere to the financial ‘Lakshman Rekha’ as huge amount are spent by parties under the garb of their supporters.
The campaign period was reduced by the Election Commission from 21 to 14 days for Lok Sabha and Assembly elections; it is for to trim down election expenditure. The Election Commission’s this attempt to impose these measures has been a move in the right direction. Moreover, Election Commission takes details of the candidate’s asset on affidavit at the time of submitting nomination paper.
In Common Cause v/s. Union of India, it was pointed out that, in India elections are fought on the basis of money. The Court ruled that, purity of election is fundamental to the democracy and Commission can ask the candidates about the expenditure incurred by them and political party for this purpose.
Prohibition on Publication
The Commission can issue an order for prohibition of publication and disseminating of results of opinion polls (Exit Polls).
A Constitutional Body
India is a Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic and the largest democracy in the World. The modern Indian nation state came into existence on 15th of August 1947. Since then free and fair elections have been held at regular intervals as per the principles enshrined in the Constitution, Electoral Laws and System.
The Constitution of India has vested in the Election Commission of India the superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State and to the offices of President and Vice-President of India.
Election Commission of India is a permanent Constitutional Body. The Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950. The Commission celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2001. For details, please click here
Originally the commission had only a Chief Election Commissioner. It currently consists of Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
For the first time two additional Commissioners were appointed on 16th October 1989 but they had a very short tenure till 1st January 1990. Later, on 1st October 1993 two additional Election Commissioners were appointed. The concept of multi-member Commission has been in operation since then, with decision making power by majority vote
Appointment & Tenure of Commissioners
The President appoints Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners. They have tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. They enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India. The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through impeachment by Parliament.
Transaction of Business
The Commission transacts its business by holding regular meetings and also by circulation of papers. All Election Commissioners have equal say in the decision making of the Commission. The Commission, from time to time, delegates some of its executive functions to its officers in its Secretariat.
The Commission has a separate Secretariat at New Delhi, consisting of about 300 officials, in a hierarchical set up.
Two or three Deputy Election Commissioners and Director Generals who are the senior most officers in the Secretariat assist the Commission. They are generally appointed from the national civil service of the country and are selected and appointed by the Commission with tenure. Directors, Principal Secretaries, and Secretaries, Under Secretaries and Deputy Directors support the Deputy Election Commissioners and Director Generals in turn. There is functional and territorial distribution of work in the Commission. The work is organised in Divisions, Branches and sections; each of the last mentioned units is in charge of a Section Officer. The main functional divisions are Planning, Judicial, Administration, Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation, SVEEP, Information Systems, Media and Secretariat Co-ordination. The territorial work is distributed among separate units responsible for different Zones into which the 35 constituent States and Union Territories of the country are grouped for convenience of management.
At the state level, the election work is supervised, subject to overall superintendence, direction and control of the Commission, by the Chief Electoral Officer of the State, who is appointed by the Commission from amongst senior civil servants proposed by the concerned state government. He is, in most of the States, a full time officer and has a small team of supporting staff.
At the district and constituency levels, the District Election Officers, Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers, who are assisted by a large number of junior functionaries, perform election work. They all perform their functions relating to elections in addition to their other responsibilities. During election time, however, they are available to the Commission, more or less, on a full time basis.
The gigantic task force for conducting a countrywide general election consists of nearly five million polling personnel and civil police forces. This huge election machinery is deemed to be on deputation to the Election Commission and is subject to its control, superintendence and discipline during the election period, extending over a period of one and half to two months.
Budget & Expenditure
The Secretariat of the Commission has an independent budget, which is finalised directly in consultation between the Commission and the Finance Ministry of the Union Government. The latter generally accepts the recommendations of the Commission for its budgets. The major expenditure on actual conduct of elections is, however, reflected in the budgets of the concerned constituent units of the Union – States and Union Territories. If elections are being held only for the Parliament, the expenditure is borne entirely by the Union Government while for the elections being held only for the State Legislature, the expenditure is borne entirely by the concerned State. In case of simultaneous elections to the Parliament and State Legislature, the expenditure is shared equally between the Union and the State Governments. For Capital equipment, expenditure related to preparation for electoral rolls and the scheme for Electors’ Identity Cards too, the expenditure is shared equally.
Executive Interference Barred
In the performance of its functions, Election Commission is insulated from executive interference. It is the Commission which decides the election schedules for the conduct of elections, whether general elections or bye-elections. Again, it is the Commission which decides on the location polling stations, assignment of voters to the polling stations, location of counting centres, arrangements to be made in and around polling stations and counting centres and all allied matters.
Political Parties & the Commission
Political parties are registered with the Election Commission under the law. The Commission ensures inner party democracy in their functioning by insisting upon them to hold their organizational elections at periodic intervals. Political Parties so registered with it are granted recognition at the State and National levels by the Election Commission on the basis of their poll performance at general elections according to criteria prescribed by it. The Commission, as a part of its quasi-judicial jurisdiction, also settles disputes between the splinter groups of such recognised parties.
Election Commission ensures a level playing field for the political parties in election fray, through strict observance by them of a Model Code of Conduct evolved with the consensus of political parties.
The Commission holds periodical consultations with the political parties on matters connected with the conduct of elections; compliance of Model Code of Conduct and new measures proposed to be introduced by the Commission on election related matters.
Advisory Jurisdiction & Quasi-Judicial Functions
Under the Constitution, the Commission also has advisory jurisdiction in the matter of post election disqualification of sitting members of Parliament and State Legislatures. Further, the cases of persons found guilty of corrupt practices at elections which come before the Supreme Court and High Courts are also referred to the Commission for its opinion on the question as to whether such person shall be disqualified and, if so, for what period. The opinion of the Commission in all such matters is binding on the President or, as the case may be, the Governor to whom such opinion is tendered.
The Commission has the power to disqualify a candidate who has failed to lodge an account of his election expenses within the time and in the manner prescribed by law. The Commission has also the power for removing or reducing the period of such disqualification as also other disqualification under the law.
The decisions of the Commission can be challenged in the High Court and the Supreme Court of the India by appropriate petitions. By long standing convention and several judicial pronouncements, once the actual process of elections has started, the judiciary does not intervene in the actual conduct of the polls. Once the polls are completed and result declared, the Commission cannot review any result on its own. This can only be reviewed through the process of an election petition, which can be filed before the High Court, in respect of elections to the Parliament and State Legislatures. In respect of elections for the offices of the President and Vice President, such petitions can only be filed before the Supreme Court.
The Commission has a comprehensive policy for the media. It holds regular briefings for the mass media-print and electronic, on a regular basis, at close intervals during the election period and on specific occasions as necessary on other occasions. The representatives of the media are also provided facilities to report on actual conduct of poll and counting. They are allowed entry into polling stations and counting centres on the basis of authority letters issued by the Commission. They include members of both international and national media. The Commission also publishes statistical reports and other documents which are available in the public domain. The library of the Commission is available for research and study to members of the academic fraternity; media representatives and anybody else interested.
The Commission has, in co-operation with the state owned media – Doordarshan and All India Radio, taken up a major campaign for awareness of voters. The Prasar Bharti Corporation which manages the national Radio and Television networks, has brought out several innovative and effective short clips for this purpose.
Voters’ Participation in the democratic and electoral processes is integral to the successful running of any democracy and the very basis of wholesome democratic elections. Recognising this, Election Commission of India, in 2009, formally adopted Voter Education and Electoral participation as an integral part of its election management.
India is a founding member of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Stockholm, Sweden. In the recent past, the Commission has expanded international contacts by way of sharing of experience and expertise in the areas of Electoral Management and Administration, Electoral Laws and Reforms. Election Officials from the national electoral bodies and other delegates from the several countries – Russia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, South Africa, Bangladesh, Thailand, Nigeria, Namibia, Bhutan, Australia, the United States and Afghanistan etc. have visited the Commission for a better understanding of the Indian Electoral Process. The Commission has also provided experts and observers for elections to other countries in co-operation with the United Nations and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
The Commission has taken several new initiatives in the recent past. Notable among these are, a scheme for use of State owned Electronic Media for broadcast/telecast by Political parties, checking criminalisation of politics, computerisation of electoral rolls, providing electors with Identity Cards, simplifying the procedure for maintenance of accounts and filling of the same by candidates and a variety of measures for strict compliance of Model Code of Conduct, for providing a level playing field to contestants during the elections.
Election Commission of India
Ashoka Road, New Delhi-110001
Tel: 011-23717391 Fax: 011-23713412