The Election Commission of India (ECI) is a constitutional organization responsible for administering elections in India according to the rules and regulations mentioned in the Constitution of India. It was launched on January 25, 1950, with an aim to define and control the process for elections conducted at various levels: Parliament, State Legislatures, and the offices of the President and Vice President of India. In other terms, the ECI ensures the smooth and successful functioning of the democracy.
In its given role, the most crucial challenge before the Election Commission of India is to implement norms and the Model Code of Conduct to ensure free and fair elections in the country. Its existence and independence are needed by history, which has shown that democratic elections are not free from sabotage. At this end, it has been empowered to oversee political parties and candidates and take appropriate action in case of violations.
The secretariat of the Commission has 300 officials and is situated in New Delhi. The Deputy Election Commissioners and Director Generals are the senior-most officers in the secretariat. The President of India nominates the Chief Election Commissioner of India, who serves for six years and must retire at the age of 65. The Commissioner is usually a member of the Civil Services, and more often, of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) or the Indian Revenue Services (IRS). He can be dismissed from his office through the process of impeachment, which needs to be carried out in the Parliament. The President of India can withdraw the other officers on the Chief Commissioner’s recommendation.
The important functions of the Election Commission are as follows:
- The Election Commission of India is taken as the custodian of free and fair elections.
- It issues the Model Code of Conduct in each election for political parties and candidates so that the dignity of democracy is regulated.
- It maintains political parties and registers them for being eligible to contest elections.
- It publishes the given limits of campaign expenditure per candidate to all the political parties and also monitors the same.
- The political parties must deposit their annual reports to the ECI for getting tax benefit on contributions.
- It ensures that all the political parties regularly deposit their audited financial reports.
- Some of the powers vested by the Election Commission are as follows:
- The Commission can suppress the outcome of opinion polls if it deems such an action fit for the cause of democracy.
- The Commission can guide for disqualification of members after the elections if it thinks they have violated certain guidelines.
- In case, a candidate is found guilty of corrupt practices at the elections, the Supreme Court and High Courts consult the Commission.
- The Commission can suspend candidates who fail to deposit their election expense accounts timely.
The Election Commission of India and the Union Finance Ministry finalize the budget for the former’s Secretariat, which is responsible for an independent budget. The alteration of the Election Commission is generally upheld by the Ministry of Finance. The concerned states and the Union Territories have to control the expenses of elections being held, but it is the Union Government who bears the expenses of the Lok Sabha (parliamentary) elections completely. In the case of the legislative assembly elections, the concerned State takes up the expenses. If the Lok Sabha (Parliamentary) and the assembly elections are taking place during the same time, the gross expenditure is equally shared amongst the Union Government and the concerned state(s).