Barely two days after the BJP petitioned Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami to remove Election Commissioner Navin B Chawla, the Centre on Friday said it would bring in a constitutional amendment to make election commissioners on par with the CEC.
Talking to reporters on the sidelines of the State Law Ministers’ Conference on Gram Nyayalaya, Law Minister HR Bhardwaj said a proposal in this regard would soon be sent to the Cabinet for approval.
After getting Cabinet clearance, the government would introduce a bill in Parliament for amendment in Article 324 of the Constitution.
At present, the President appoints the CEC and ECs but procedures for their removal are different. While the CEC can be removed only through an impeachment motion like a Supreme Court judge, the President on the recommendation of the CEC, can remove the ECs.
Bhardwaj sought to emphasise that the CEC and the ECs were equal and the former could not remove the latter. He said the anomalies in the provision regarding removal of the ECs would be done away with.
Terming the BJP’s demand for Chawla's removal a political manoeuvre, Bhardwaj said: “I am fully satisfied with the conduct of the EC (Chawla).”
The Supreme Court had on August 7, 2007, allowed BJP leader Jaswant Singh to withdraw his petitions seeking the removal of Chawla after the CEC asserted that he had power to initiate action against an EC on the basis of a petition to him.
“We cannot stop anyone from representing to the CEC,” a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhan had said.
Maintaining that the executive government alone could initiate action for the removal of an EC, the Centre said the CEC had no power whatsoever in this regard except make a recommendation to the President.
The government said all the ECs, including the CEC, were equal in status and salary as per the law framed by Parliament and the CEC could not claim power to remove an EC.
If the CEC recommends to the President that Chawla should be removed, it would be a huge embarrassment to both Chawla and the UPA government, which has been stoutly defending the controversial EC.
Jaswant Singh had approached the Supreme Court after the then President APJ Abdul Kalam failed to refer the NDA petition seeking Chawla’s removal to the CEC. The NDA had sought Chawla’s removal on the ground that he would not be able to discharge his duties impartially in view of allegations of impropriety. NDA alleged that he “lacks fairness and non-partisan approach” because of his “close proximity” to the Congress and its leadership.
In his affidavit Gopalaswami said: “The powers vested in him under the second proviso to Article 324(5) of the Constitution can be exercised by him on information which has come to his knowledge during the course of his functioning as the CEC, or on the basis of any formal representation or petition filed before him by a political party or any other body.” He had gone to the extent of saying that he could initiate suo motu action against an Election Commissioner. Gopalaswami had justified his predecessor BB Tandon's stand that he could not act on the NDA representation for Chawla’s removal because it was addressed to the President.
BJP has supported the CEC’s stand on the issue and said he should exercise his powers. The recommendation for removal of an EC would be binding on the President, it added.