A good electoral system is, therefore, the bed rock of genuine representative government. The architects of the Indian constitution attached the highest significance to arzon-dependent electoral machinery for the conduct of elections.
For this it was necessary that an independent election commission with its vast paraphernalia should be set-up in country such a commission could ensure fair and free elections of the representatives of the pie at all levels.
Articles 324, Dr. Ambedkar contended, "proposed centralise the election machinery in hands of a single commission, be assisted by regional commissioners working under the supervision direction control of the election commission and not and under e control of the state government as envisaged earlier."
Composition of the Election Commission:
Of the four pillars of the Indian constitution, the Election commission is one, the other three being the Supreme Court, the public service commission and the comptroller and Auditor General of India.
On the Election commission depends the integrity of election, which truly is the oxygen of democracy. Thus viewed, its independence d impartiality assume critical importance to the country's entire political system.
To ensure free and fair and impartial elections, the constitution establishes the Election Commission, a body autonomous in character and free from political orenecutive influence. The commission is an All India body having jurisdiction over, elections to parliament, fate Legislatures, offices of the president and vice-president.
The Election Commission consists of the Chief Election Commissioner, and such number of Election Commissioners if any as the president may fix from time to time.
The Chief Election Commissioner stands at the apex of the hierarchy of the Election Commission of India. All these commissioners are appointed by the president subject to the provisions of any law enacted by parliament for the purpose.
The Chief Election Commissioner acts as the chairman of the Election Commission .in case any other Election Commissioner besides him is appointed.
The tenure of the Chief Election Commissioner is independent of the executive discretion, for he cannot be removed from his of face except in the like manner and on the like grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court. The conditions of service of the Chief Election Commissioner cannot be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment.
The president also promulgated an ordinance amending the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioner Act providing for unanimous transaction of business and decisions but in case of differences of opinion among the three members the matter shall be decided "according to the opinion of the majority."
The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioner Act, 1991 as existed before the issue of ordinance was weighed in favour of the chief election commissioner on decision making in case of differences among the members of the commission.
The constitution provides for a single member or multimember Election Commission. Where there is more than one I members the CEC acts as its chairman.
The committee on Electoral Reforms has made certain recommendations with regard to the items and conditions of service Of the Chief Election Commissioner and the other Election Commissioners. After having studied those recommendations the chief Election Commissioners of India conditions of service rules 1972 were amended with introspective, effect from 1st January 1986.
The Chief Election Commissioner of India will not be entitled to the salary and other facilities, like rent free accommodation, equivalery to that of a judge of Supreme Court. The term of his office has also been extended upto 6 years, from the date he assumes office or till the day he at his the age of 65 years.
To assist the Chief Election Commissioner in the performance of his onerous duties there exists a large paraphernalia of the officers and the staff subordinate to him. Among them is the regional commissioner. Deputy Election Commissioner, secretary, Under secretary, Research officers etc.
In the place of the regional commissioners a new post of Deputy Election Commissioner was created in the Election Commission for the first time in 1956. Since he Deputy Chief Election Commissioner is appointed by the president and is usually sent on deputation, he can be recalled by the central govt, at the request of the chief Election Commissioner at any time.
At the state or the union territory level there is the Chief Election officer as the kingpin in the Electoral machinery. He is nominated by the Election Commission in consultation with the state Govt. He is usually a senior executive or judicial officer of the state Government.
He is assisted by the joint deputy or assistant Chief Election officers as well as the rest of the staff appointed by him in consultation with the state government. He may be a whole time or part time officer.
At the district level the electoral duties are discharged by the District officer or the Executive Officer in addition to his normal administrative routine.
The responsibility for the preparation and revision of electoral rolls is rested in an officer called the Electoral Registration officer. He may have under him Assistant Electoral Registration officers.
The election in every constituency is supervised by an officer known as the returning officer nominated by the Election commission in consultation with the govt, of the state.
The same officer can be nominated as returning officer r more than one constituencies. He is assisted by one or more assistant Returning Officers so designated by the Election Commission.
The staff consisting of presiding and polling officers, for the actual conduct of the poll is appointed by the District Election officer.
The District Election Officer may appoint a presiding officer for each polling station and such polling officers are necessary. The presiding officer keeps order of the pooling station and ensures the fair conduct of the poll.
Functions and powers of the Election Commission:
The Election Commission of India has to perform multifarious duties assigned to it under the constitution. Some of the principal functions of the commission are:
(1) Demarcation of constituencies:
To facilitate the process of elections a country has to be divided into several constituencies. The task of delimiting constituencies is generally performed by a delimitation commission. But the power to delimit parliamentary and assembly constituencies for the first general elections in 1951 was conferred on the president.
The Election Commission distributed the seats district wise in each one of the states and directed the Chief Electoral Officers to prepare proposals for the physical demarcation of constituencies according to the prescribed criteria.
The procedure adopted in the delimitation of constituencies in 1951 led to a virtual power in the hands of the ruling party to decide the contours of the constituencies as it suited its designs.
The association of parliamentary Advisory committees with the delimitation commission gave top priority to political consideration. The Election Commission strongly pleaded for taking away this power from the parliament.
The Delimitation commission was to consist of three members, two of whom were to be nominated by the president from serving or retired judges of the Supreme Court or High Courts while the Chief Election Commissioner was to be an ex-officio member.
(2) Electoral Rolls:
The second important but tedious function of the Election Commission is to prepare for identification the upto date list of all the persons who are entitled for voting at the poll.
(3) Recognition of political parties and Allotment of Symbols:
A new part IV A has been added to the representation of the people Amendment Act, 1951 on registration of political parties.
Section 29 A now inserted provides for registration with the commission, of associations and bodies of individual citizens of India as political parties for purpose of this Act. This provision came into force from June 15, 1989. A recognised political party has been classified either as a National Party or a state party under paragraph 7 of the Elections symbol order 1968.
Another important function of the Election Commissioner is to allot symbols to the political parties and the candidates, and also to accord recognition to the political parties. The commission has specified certain symbols as reserved and others as free.
The reserved symbols are only available for candidates sponsored by the political parties and the free symbols are equally available to other candidates.
The Election Commission has power to adjudicate upon disputes with regard to recognition of political parties and rival claims to a particular symbol for the purposes of elections.
(4) Scrutiny of the Nomination Papers:
Another function of the Election Commission is to examine the nomination papers of the candidates. These papers are accepted if found in order, but rejected otherwise. This duty is performed by the returning officer who notifies to all the contesting candidates the date, time and place for the formal scrutiny of nomination papers.
The Returning officer summarily but judicially examines all the nomination papers and decides the objection raised. He is also to see whether the requisite requirements of security deposit, election symbol, election agent etc. have also been fulfilled.
He is empowered to reject the nomination papers either by upholding the objection raised by a rival candidate or on his own motion or any of the following (a) that the candidate either is not qualified or is disqualified to fill the seat under any of the relevant constitutional provisions viz. Articles 84. 102, 173 and 191 (b) that the provision of sections 33 and 34 of the representation of the people's Act 1951 have not been complied with and (c) that the signature of the candidate or the proposer on the nomination or papers is not genuine.
(5) The conduct of the poll:
Another stupendous task that the Election Commission has to undertake is the conduct of the poll throughout the whole of India. In a parliamentary constituency, the returning officer is to make suitable arrangements for conducting the poll with the prior approval of the Election Commission.
The commission can order a Ripoll for the whole constituency under compulsion of circumstances. Articles 324 confers on the Election Commission necessary powers to conduct the elections including the power to countermand the poll in a constituency and ordering a fresh poll there in because of hooliganism and break down of law and order at the line of polling or counting of votes.
(6) Election Expenses:
Another most controversial function that the election commission has perform is no scrutinize the accounts of election expenses submitted by contestants in elections. In India every contesting candidate is required to maintain and file the accounts of his election expenses.
Within a prescribed period after publication of the result of his election within 10 days from the last date of filing the returns the Returning Officer submits to the Election Commission a list of all the candidates and their agents together with their returns as also his observation in respect of candidates who have failed to lodge returns in the specified time and a accordance with the procedure prescribed by law.
The commission scrutinizes the accounts and dudes whether the returns are in proper form and whether they have been lodged in time. In case of default it notifies the candidates or their agents of there disqualification by publishing these in the official Gazette.
Role of the Election Commission:
Election is the contrivance through which a modern state creates amongst its citizens a sense of involvement and participation in public affairs. It is through popular elections that the authority of a govt, is clouted with legitimacy and peaceful and orderly transfer of authority to new leaders is ensured.
For this it was necessary than an independent Election Commission with its vast paraphernalia should be set up in the country. Such a commission would ensure fair and free election of the representatives of the people at all levels.
According to L.K. Advani, "The Election Commission occupies a pivotal place in the scheme of the Indian constitution. During recent years it has willingly or unwillingly abdicated its independent Supra governmental authority and accepted for itself the role of a mere official department charged with the conduct of elections."
The relations between CES and the central and state Governments are not cordial. The confrontation and the ensuing embarrassment for the Governments as a result of the ruling given by Chief Election Commissioner J.N. Seshan have only been increasing.
With a critical evaluation of the working of the Election Commission of India so far as we can now infer that: Firstly, the working of the Elections Commission of India during the last four decades has shown that the Election Commission worked independently and impartially, as well as efficiently.
Secondly, the Election Commission has fulfilled all the constitutional obligations, and has never tried to go beyond or over step the limits of the constitution. It always worked within the frame work of the constitution.
Thirdly, when the Election Commission conducted the first General Election in 1951-52 the electorate were just 17 million but the present strength of the electorate is about 50 crores. The commission, has however been able to cope with its ever mounting responsibilities. It has the capacity to meet new challenges and faced the situation boldly.
Fourthly, although the faith of the people in democracy, its institutions and political parties has eroded but their faith in the Election Commission has all the more strengthened or fortified.
According to the Election Commission, the very fact that in almost all states the ruling parties have suffer setbacks shows that the elections have been free and fair.
It has given the lie to the wide spread belief that the party in power will use official machinery and influence the voters in its favour.