CEC 'Interacted' With PMO After Unusual Govt Note Demanding His Presence at Meeting: Report

The law ministry's letter requesting the CEC's presence at a meeting held by the PMO was highly irregular since the Election Commission usually maintains a distance from the Executive to ensure autonomy of functioning.

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New Delhi: Chief election commissioner (CEC) Sushil Chandra and election commissioners (EC) Rajiv Kumar and Anup Chandra Pandey attended an unusual online “interaction” called by the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) on November 16, the Indian Express has reported.

This interaction reportedly took place a day after the Election Commission received an irregular note from the Union law ministry – the poll panel’s administrative ministry – stating that P.K. Mishra, principal secretary to the prime minister, would “chair a meeting” on the common electoral roll and that he “expects” the CEC to be present.

The wording of this letter raised eyebrows within the Commission with an official telling the newspaper that it read like a “summons” and that previous meetings on the topic were attended by officials of the Commission and not the commissioners themselves, the newspaper reported.

What made this note and the subsequent meeting irregular is that the Commission usually remains distanced from the Executive in order to maintain autonomy of function. The Commission’s interactions with the government on election issues usually remain limited to its administrative ministry; the law ministry or, if security forces need to be arranged for a certain election, the home ministry.

As such, CEC Chandra was reportedly upset with the note and averred that he would not attend the meeting, according to a senior EC official. The meeting with Mishra was thus attended by the Commission’s officials and not the commissioners but, immediately after the meeting, the CEC and two ECs did attend an “informal interaction” with Mishra on the topic of a common electoral roll.

A senior Commission official, speaking about the reforms that were discussed in the interaction, was quoted by the newspaper as saying, “This was done to expedite reforms so that there is no gap in understanding and no delay.” The cabinet is thought to have cleared these reforms on Wednesday.

When asked if this meeting was “proper” vis-a-vis constitution norms and precedents, the official reiterated that it was only an informal interaction to expedite the reforms and that there was no discussion on the upcoming assembly elections in several states.

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The common electoral roll agenda to facilitate simultaneous elections and reduce the costs associated with the numerous elections at different levels across the country was mentioned on the BJP’s 2019 Sankalp Patra (election manifesto).

However, this demand has been made for a long time, by the law commission in 2015 and by the election commission in 1999 and 2004.