(Sample Material) Gist of Important Articles from IIPA
Topic: Role and Functioning of Election Commission of India
Our form of Government and Elections
The Founding Fathers of our Constitution were men of great
wisdom and foresight. After an in-depth examination and analysis of various
forms of democratic governments, prevalent in different parts of the world at
the time of India’s independence, the Constitution makers considered the
Westminster type of parliamentary from of government, as is prevalent in the
United Kingdom, as best suited to the political, social and economic conditions
and needs of India.
Keeping in view the diversity that exists in our country,
which is a large country, and is often referred to as a sub-continent, the
Constitution of India was drawn up on the principle of federalism. It is a
Constitution which is federal in nature with a unitary bais.
Democracy being the bedrock on which Indian nation stands, it
becomes imperative, that persons entering democratic institutions like
Parliament and State Legislatures, do so on the basis of free and fair
elections. To ensure that elections to Parliament and State Legislatures are
free and fair and not tainted with, or vitiated by, any malpractices which have
the effect of interfering with the free exercise of electoral rights of millions
of voters of India, there was considerable debate in the Constituent Assembly in
regard to the authority which should be entrusted with this task of holding free
and fair elections.
Role of Election Commission
Ultimately, it was decided that all elections to Parliament
and the State Legislatures should be entrusted to a Central Election Commission.
Thus, a whole new Part XV under the heading ‘Elections’ (containing Articles 324
to 329) came to be inserted in the Constitution of India.
Article 324 of the Constitution created the Election
Commission as an independent constitutional authority. Clause (l) of that
Article vested the superintendence, direction and control of preparation of
electoral rolls for, and conduct of, all elections to Parliament and to the
Legislature of every State, and of elections to the offices of President and
Vice-President of India in the Election Commission.
The importance of the role which the Election Commission plays as an
independent body in the healthy growth of democracy in the country is best
described in the following words of the Supreme Court:
The preamble of our Constitution proclaims that we are a
Democratic Republic. Democracy being the basic feature of our constitutional set
up, there can be no two opinions that free and fair elections to our Legislative
bodies alone would guarantee the growth of a healthy democracy in the country.
In order to ensure the purity of the election process, it was thought by our
Constitution makers that the responsibility to hold free and fair elections in
the country should be entrusted to an independent body which would be insulated
from political and or executive interference. It is inherent in a democratic set
up that the agency which is entrusted the task of holding elections to the
Legislatures should be fully insulated so that it can function as an independent
agency free from external pressures from the party in power or executive of the
day. This objective is achieved by the setting up of an Election Commission, a
permanent body, under Article 324(1) of the Constitution. The superintendence,
direction and control of the entire election process in the country has been
vested under the said clause in a Commission called the Election Commission?
Composition of Election Commission
The Constitution makers provided in clause (2) of Article 324
of the Constitution that the Election Commission may be a single-member
Commission or a multi-member body, depending upon the needs of the time. To
begin with, the Election Commission was constituted as a single-member
Commission, with the Chief Election Commissioner of India as its sole member.
This arrangement continued till October 16, 1989, when the Election Commission
became, for the first time, a multi-member body with the appointment of two
Election Commissioners. However, this was a short-lived arrangement. On January
1, 1990, after the completion of the Ninth General Election to the House of the
People, the Election Commission again became a single-member Commission.
From October 1,1993, the Election Commission has again been
converted into multi-member body, with the appointment of two Election
Commissioners. This, now, is a permanent arrangement, as, simultaneously with
the appointment of Election Commissioners, they were given statutory guarantee
in regard to their tenure, as their term of office was fixed as six years or
till the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.41t was also provided by law that
the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, shall have equal say
in the decision- making of the Election Commission in all matters and, if there
was any difference of opinion amongst them in any matter, it is the opinion of
the majority which shall prevail.
Powers and Task
The conduct of elections to the offices of President and
Vice- President of India and to Parliament and State Legislatures is governed by
the provisions of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Act, 1952,
Representation of the People Act, 1950 and the Representation of the People Act,
1951-all enacted by Parliament. Where, however, the enacted laws are silent or
make insufficient provision to deal with a given situation, Article 324 of the
Constitution of India has been held by the Supreme Court of India to be a
‘reservoir of power’ for the Election Commission to act in such vacuous area to
ensure the conduct of free and fair elections with expedition.
The Commission has been using all the powers that it legally
enjoys, be it powers derived from the Constitution, the Representation of the
People Acts 1950 and 1951, or any other statutes to ensure that free and fair
elections take place in the country, and that there is a level playing field
between contesting candidates and contesting political parties. It does this by
ensuring neutrality of officials conducting elections, reducing use of money
power in electioneering, seeing that the party in power does not gain an unfair
edge in the elections by going in for populist programmes, schemes or spendings
on the eve of elections, and seeing that the average citizen is insulated in his
personal life from instructions due to electioneering.
This is a stupendous task, given the dimensions involved. A
general election to the House of the People which is held direct on the basis of
universal adult suffrage (18 years and above), from 543 Parliamentary
Constituencies into which the whole territory of the country is divided,
involves casting of votes by over 600 million voters and counting thereof. It
means deploying about five million officials to man nearly one million polling
stations that are set up. Some of these polling stations are in such remote
areas that it takes the polling staff two to three days to reach there.