Arun Goel quits as Election Commissioner ahead of polls

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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in news?
  • Controversy surrounding the appointment of Arun Goel as Election Commissioner
  • Election Commissioner
  • Key highlights of The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023

Why in news?

  • Days ahead of the announcement of the schedule for the upcoming Lok Sabha election, Election Commissioner Arun Goel resigned.
  • With Goel’s resignation, the EC, which is a three-member body, is left with only Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar.
    • There was already a vacancy in the EC after Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey retired last month.
  • The Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023 will be used to fill the current vacancies in the Election Commission according to its provisions.
    • The government had introduced a new law in December 2023.

Controversy surrounding the appointment of Arun Goel as Election Commissioner

  • After 37 years in the IAS, Goel took voluntary retirement on November 18, 2022, a month before he was set to retire.
  • The very next day, November 19, the President appointed him as Election Commissioner, filling the post that had been vacant since May 15, 2022.
  • Goel’s appointment came at a time when the SC was hearing petitions on the procedure for appointing Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
  • The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) moved the court in April 2023 against Goel’s appointment.
  • It said that the appointment was arbitrary and he seemed to have remarkable foresight to seek voluntary retirement ahead of his appointment as EC.

Election Commissioner

  • About
    • Election Commission is a permanent and independent body.
    • By Article 324 of the Constitution of India, it is vested with the power of conducting elections to – Parliament; State Legislatures; Office of President and Vice-President of India.
  • Appointment and Tenure of Commissioners
    • The Constitution does not lay down a specific legislative process for the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
      • Article 324(2) says appointment of CEC and other ECs shall be subject to provisions of any law made by the Parliament.
      • Until recently, there was no such law.
      • The President used to make the appointment on the advice of the Union Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.
    • Now, the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023 guides the appointment of election commissioners.
  • Tenure
    • They have tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
    • The CEC can be removed from office except in same manner and on the same grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court.
    • The Constitution has not debarred the retiring Election Commissioners from any further appointment by the Government.

Key highlights of The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023

  • Removed CJI from the panel
    • The act seeks to replace the Chief Justice of India with a Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister in the committee for selection of the CECs and ECs.
    • It also makes the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha a member of the selection committee.
  • Criteria
    • It says the ECI will consist of a CEC and other ECs from among people:
      • who hold or have held the post equivalent to Secretary to the Government of India; and
      • shall be persons of integrity, who have knowledge of and experience in management and conduct of elections.
  • Process
    • First, a Search Committee, headed by the law minister, would propose a panel of names to the selection committee.
    • The Selection committee will be chaired by the PM and will include the Leader of Opposition or leader of the single largest Opposition party in Lok Sabha and a Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister.
    • The Selection Committee may consider any other person apart from those included in the Search Committee’s panel.
  • Terms & tenure
    • The terms of the CEC and ECs remain unchanged, at six years or until they reach the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
    • The salary and conditions of service of the CEC and ECs will be equivalent to that of a SC Judge.
  • Repeals the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991
    • Removal of three top functionaries of the EC
      • While CEC’s removal shall be in the same manner and on like grounds as an SC judge, the election commissioners can only be removed from office on the recommendation of CEC.
  • Protection to serving as well as former CECs and election commissioners from civil or criminal proceedings
    • The government has inserted a new provision to protect current and former Chief Election Commissioners (CECs) and election commissioners.
    • This provision shields them from being taken to court for any civil or criminal charges related to their official duties.

Q1) What is Article 324 of Indian Constitution?

Article 324 of the Constitution provides that the power of superintendence, direction and control of elections to parliament, state legislatures, the office of president of India and the office of vice-president of India shall be vested in the Election Commission.

Q2) What are the functions of election commissioner?

 EC takes decisions on every aspect of conduct and control of elections from the announcement of elections to the declaration of results. It implements the Code of Conduct and punishes any candidate or party that violates it.