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Bill seeking to replace CJI with cabinet minister in panel for selection of CEC, ECs tabled in Rajya Sabha

Bill seeking to replace CJI with cabinet minister in panel for selection of CEC, ECs tabled in Rajya Sabha
The government on Thursday introduced in the Rajya Sabha a contentious bill that seeks to replace the Chief Justice of India with a cabinet minister in the panel for selection of the chief election commissioner and election commissioners, amid an uproar by the opposition. Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal moved the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023 in the Upper House in the post-lunch session.

According to the bill, future chief election commissioners and election commissioners will be selected by a three-member panel headed by the prime minister and comprising the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha and a cabinet minister.

Opposition parties, including the Congress and the AAP, have raised strong objections to the bill and accused the government of diluting a Supreme Court Constitution bench order.

The bill comes months after the Supreme Court in March ruled that the selection panel should comprise the prime minister, the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India (CJI), till a law is framed by Parliament on the appointment of the chief election commissioner (CEC) and election commissioners (ECs).

A vacancy will arise in the Election Commission early next year when Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey demits office on February 14 on attaining the age of 65 years.

His retirement will come just days before the likely announcement of the 2024 Lok Sabha poll schedule by the commission. On the past two occasions, the commission had announced parliamentary polls in March.

The apex court in its March verdict had aimed at insulating the appointment of the chief election commissioner and election commissioners from the Executive's interference.

The bill seeks to regulate the appointment of the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners.

According to the bill, the CEC and ECs shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a selection committee consisting of the prime minister, who will be the chairperson; the leader of opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha, and a Union Cabinet minister to be nominated by the prime minister.

It also states that the appointment of the CEC and ECs "shall not be invalid" merely by reason of any vacancy in or any defect in the constitution of the selection committee.

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