Part XV (Article 324-329) of the Constitution of India which is entitled as “Elections” provides the foundation for the enactment of appropriate laws and the setting up of a suitable machinery for the conduct of elections. The first general elections were held in 1952 and Shri Sukumar Sen was the first Chief Election Commissioner.
ELECTION COMMISSION (ARTICLE 324)
Article 324 provides for the appointment of an Election Commission to superintend, direct and control the elections. This Article is held to be a plenary provision, vesting in the Election Commission, the whole responsibility for holding National and State elections and therefore, the necessary power to discharge that function. It is, however, to be read with the Constitutional Scheme and the Representation of People Act, 1950 and the Representation of People Act, 1951. The Election Commission is an all-India body having jurisdiction over elections to Parliament, State Legislatures, offices of the President and the Vice-President. The Constitution of Election Commission as a central body having control over the entire election process in the country was done prevent injustice, which could be done by regional, State Governments by discriminating against any section of the people in the matters relating to elections. The Election Commission is constituted as an autonomous and independent body, with a view, to ensure the conduct of “free and fair elections”. It has been held to be the most important arbitrator on holding of the elections.
COMPOSITION OF ELECTION COMMISSION
Article 324 (2) provides that the Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix. The President may also appoint, after consultation with the Election Commission, such Regional Commissioners as he may consider necessary to assist the Election Commission in the performance of its functions. The conditions of service and tenure of office of the Election Commissioners and the Regional Commissioners shall be such as the President may by rule determine. These rules, however, are subject to any law made by Parliament in this respect.
INDEPENDENCE OF ELECTION COMMISSION
The Constitution envisages the setting up of an independent and autonomous Election Commission. It provides for several provisions regarding the same. Firstly, it provides that the chief Election Commissioner shall not be removed from his office except in the like manner and on the like grounds as a Judge of the Supreme Court. Secondly, it provides that the conditions of service of the Chief Election Commissioner shall not be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment. The Chief Election Commissioner is, therefore, protected against political and executive influence and for that reason, he can discharge his functions without fear, favour or pressure from the executive or party in power. Even the tenure of office of other Election Commissioners and the Regional Commissioners is also free of the executive control in so far, none of them can be removed from office except on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner. This check on executive’s power is to safeguard the independence of not only these functionaries but the Election Commission as a body.
FUNCTIONS OF THE ELECTION COMMISSION
The Election Commission performs the following functions:
(a) The superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for all elections to Parliament and to the Legislature of every State and of elections to the offices of President and Vice President.
(b) The conduct of all the elections to Parliament and to the Legislature of every State and of elections to the offices of President and Vice President.
(c) To advise the President or the Governor of a State, as the case may be, on the question of disqualification of any member of Parliament or a member of a State Legislature, respectively.
It is, however, notable that the powers conferred on the Election Commission under Article 324 (1) is subjected to two limitations, namely-
(i) When Parliament or any State Legislature has made a valid law relating to or in connection with elections, the Commission shall act in conformity with such law.
(ii) The Commission while exercising power shall conform to the rule of law, act bona fide and be amenable to the norms of natural justice.
IMPORTANT CASE LAWS
1. T. N. Seshan vs Union of India
In this case, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the Act equating the status, power and authority of the two Election Commissioners with that of the Chief Election Commissioner. The Court held that the Chief Election Commissioner did not enjoy a status superior to other Election Commissioners even though there were differences between the service conditions of the Chief Election Commissioners and the other Election Commissioners. The scheme of Article 324, it was held, clearly provided for a multi-member body comprising of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners.
2. Union of India vs Association for Democratic Reforms
In this case, the Apex Court held that the Commission could cope with situation where the field was unoccupied by issuing necessary orders since every contingency cannot be foreseen or anticipated with precession. Article 324 has been said to be a reservoir of power, leaving scope for exercise of residuary power by the Commission in its own right, as a creature of the Constitution. The Commission, may, therefore, issue directions, asking the candidates to furnish information relating to their assets, educational qualifications, antecedents of his life etc.
1. The Constitution of India- Bare Act.
2. D. Basu, Introduction to the Constitution of India (Wadhwa, Nagpur, 2008.
3. Narender Kumar, Constitutional Law of India (Allahabad Law Agency, 2019)