State Election Commissioners

News: The Supreme Court gas held that independent persons and not bureaucrats should be appointed State Election Commissioners.

Details:

  • The judgment came on an appeal against an order of the Bombay High Court which had set aside the election notification issued by the Goa State Election Commission in some municipalities.
  • Justice F. Nariman, in a judgment, said giving government employees the additional charge of State Election Commissioners is a “mockery of the Constitution”.
  • It said government employees holding the post of State Election Commissioners as additional charge should give up the post. The Supreme Court said its direction should be followed strictly.
  • Under the constitutional mandate, it is the duty of the State to not interfere with the functioning of the State Election Commission. The independence of Election Commissions cannot be compromised at any cost, the Bench said.

State Election Commission:

  • The Constitution of India vests in the State Election Commission, consisting of a State Election Commissioner, the superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for, and the conduct of all elections to the Panchayats and the Municipalities (Articles 243K, 243ZA).
  • The State Election Commissioner is appointed by the Governor.
  • As per article 243the Governor, when so requested by the State Election Commission, make available to the State Election Commission such staff as may be necessary for the discharge of the functions conferred on the SEC by clause (1).
  • Under the Constitution, establishment of local self-government institutions is the responsibility of the states (entry 5, List II, Seventh Schedule).

Powers and removal of state election commissioner:

  • The State Election Commissioner has the status, salary and allowance of a Judge of a High Court and cannot be removed from office except in like manner and on the like grounds as a Judge of a High Court.
  • The ECI and SECs have a similar mandate; do they also have similar powers?
  • The provisions of Article 243Kof the Constitution, which provides for setting up of SECs, are almost identical to those of Article 324 related to the EC. In other words, the SECs enjoy the same status as the EC.
  • In 2006, the Supreme Court emphasised the two constitutional authorities enjoy the same powers.
  • In Kishan Singh Tomar vs Municipal Corporation of the City of Ahmedabad, the Supreme Court directed that state governments should abide by orders of the SECs during the conduct of the panchayat and municipal elections, just like they follow the instructions of the EC during Assembly and Parliament polls.

SEC v/s EC:

  • Although state election commissioners are appointed by the state governors and can only be removed by impeachment, in the last two decades many have struggled to assert their independence.

One of the most widely remembered cases of confrontation happened in Maharashtra in 2008. Then state election commissioner Nand Lal was arrested and sent to jail for two days in March 2008 after the Assembly found him guilty of breach of privilege in an alleged conflict over his jurisdiction and powers.