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ECI & Dissenting opinion controversy

ECI & Dissenting opinion controversy

Tag: GS 2 || Polity || Constitutional Bodies || Election Commission

Why in news?

  • The Election Commission decided by a majority of 2:1, that dissenting opinions in Model Code of Conduct (MCC) disputes will not be made part of any final order and will only be included in internal files, as per previous practice.

Dispute

  • The issue came up before the full bench comprising Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Lavasa and Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra, after Lavasa raised objections over his dissenting opinions not being included in the orders on certain speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.
  • Lavasa wrote thrice to the CEC, conveying his decision to stay away from the proceeding related to the MCC if dissenting views were not incorporated in the orders.

Law

  • Article 324: Article 324 of the Constitution vests the superintendence, direction and control of elections in an Election Commission of India.
  • Multi-member body: It consists of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix.
    • At present the Election Commission is a multi-member body, with a Chief Election Commissioner and two other members.
  • Unanimity: The law says that all EC business shall, as far as possible, be transacted unanimously.
    • Dissent is, however, provided for in the Act itself:
      • “If the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners differ… such matter shall be decided according to the opinion of the majority”.

Procedure

  • Majority: Where there is a difference of opinion, decision is taken by majority.
    • All opinions carry equal weight, which means the CEC can be overruled by the two ECs.
  • Recorded in file: If some difference of opinion persists even after oral deliberations and discussions, such dissent is recorded in the file.
    • In normal practice, while communicating the decision of the Commission in executive matters, the majority view is conveyed to the parties concerned. The dissent remains recorded in the file.
    • In case dissent is to be recorded in a case of judicative nature, the dissenting member may like to record a separate opinion/order.
  • However, despite the existence of the provision to take decisions by majority since 1993, very rarely has dissent been recorded.
  • When a matter is deliberated upon by the 3 Commissioners, they normally agree to a common course of action.
  • This does not, however, mean that there is no disagreement between the Commissioners.

Recent decision

  • Technically and legally right: The recent rejection of the demand of Lavasa on recording dissenting opinions in the orders may be technically and legally right.
  • EC has been criticized: However, there was indeed a strong case for acceding to his demand. This is especially true at least in regard to complaints against high functionaries such as the Prime Minister.
    • The EC has been widely criticised for giving a series of ‘clean chits’ to the PM.
      • This was despite some questionable remarks that appeared to solicit votes in the name of the armed forces.
    • Added to the dispute was the unexplained delay of several weeks in disposing of complaints against Modi.
    • It is in this context that Lavasa’s dissenting opinion may have been relevant enough to merit inclusion in the EC’s orders.
      • People are entitled to know whether or not the poll panel’s key decisions are unanimous.
      • In the present case, Lavasa has taken up the issue through as many as three letters. So it is reasonable to infer that there is some basis for his grievance.

  • Functions of EC: The onus on EC to maintain a level-playing field and enforce the election code is quite high, especially when its credibility is under question.
  • It would be unfortunate if the majority in the EC were to be afraid of any public reaction that may result from disclosure of a split opinion.

Mains question

  • The Election Commission’s weakening commitment to the Model Code of Conduct is cause for concern. Comment.