Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened a union cabinet meeting on Monday, coinciding with the ongoing 5-day special parliament session. While the specific agenda of the cabinet meeting was not disclosed, there is widespread speculation regarding the possibility of “historic decisions” being made, as alluded to by PM Modi in earlier remarks.
Ahead of the special parliament session, the official statement from the secretariat outlined the agenda, which included the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service, and Term of Office) Bill, 2023.
However, recent reports indicate that the government may not push for the passage of the CEC Bill during the five-day parliament session. Sources suggest that one perspective within the government is to refer the bill to the standing committee on law and justice for further review.
Some former Chief Election Commissioners (CECs), such as N Gopalaswamy, V S Sampat, and S Y Quraishi, expressed their opposition to the bill in a letter to the prime minister. Their primary concern revolves around the provision that equates the CEC and Election Commissioners (ECs) with the cabinet secretary.
Criticism of certain provisions in the bill, including from former CECs and ECs, appears to have prompted the government to reconsider its stance, according to the report by PTI.
The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service, and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, seeks to replace the Chief Justice of India with a cabinet minister in the panel responsible for selecting the Chief Election Commissioner and election commissioners. This change would grant the government more influence in appointing members of the Election Commission.
Additionally, the bill proposes that the salary, allowances, and other service conditions of the CEC and ECs match those of the Cabinet Secretary, marking a departure from their current parity with a Supreme Court judge. Critics argue that this change diminishes the authority of the Election Commission.
The impending vacancy in the Election Commission, with Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey set to retire on February 15, 2023, when he reaches the age of 65, further adds to the significance of the CEC Bill’s deliberations.