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The Constitution provides for an independent Election Commission to ensure free and fair elections to the Parliament, the state legislature, and the offices of the President and Vice-President. The Election Commission consists of a Chief Election Commissioner and such other commissioners as the President may decide from time to time. In 1989 the government appointed two election commissioners to cope with the increased work of the Election Commission because of lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 years.
However, subsequently the National Front government abolished both these posts to resume the earlier position. In October, 1993, the then government under P.V. Narasimha Rao, appointed two more commissioners through an ordinance to take all decisions unanimously or by majority. This ordinance was challenged in the Supreme Court by Chief Election Commissioner; the Court passed an interim order which upheld the supremacy of the CEC over the other two commissioners.
In June, 1994, through a special session of the Parliament, 83rd Amendment to the Constitution was passed which equated the powers of the two commissioners with that of the CEC. However, in view of the possibility that the bill may not be able to secure the required 2/3rd majority, the government beat a retreat; subsequently, the ordinance was replaced by an Act. The CEC again challenged the act on the ground, that it was done so with malevolent intentions. This again resulted into the Court passing an interim order that the CEC alone was empowered to conduct the business of the Election Commission.
But the issue was finally settled for good in July, 1995 when the 5-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court dismissed the petition of the CEC against Centre’s controversial legislation. The Bench unanimously upheld the appointment of two Election Commissioners equating their powers to that of the Chief Election Commissioner.
CEC and the other election commissioners are appointed by the President of India for a term of five years. The term can be cut short by the President on account of resignation or removal on the grounds of proved misbehavior or incapacity, if the Parliament recommends so.
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