MUMBAI: Former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi today called for setting up of a collegium system to appoint election commissioners, including the poll panel chief, to keep "perception of neutrality" intact.
He said election commissioners get an "unwanted tag" of political appointees and time has come when the appointment of all ECs, including the CEC, is made through a collegium system.
Quraishi, who headed the constitutional body from 2010 to 2012, said the Election Commission (EC) was doing a "great" job in conducting free and fair polls in the world's largest democracy.
"No issues that our commission is largest in the world and been doing a great job in conducting free and fair elections.
"But one thing really saddens me...that we do not have a system where commissioners are appointed through collegium system. We get an unwanted tag of political appointee and it really sounds bad," he said here.
The retired bureaucrat was speaking at the Mumbai Litfest' organised in the Prithvi Theatre in suburban Juhu.
He said chiefs of election bodies across the world and even heads of other bodies in India like the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Information Commission are named through a collegium system where the government and the opposition leader make a unanimous selection.
But unfortunately, the Election Commission is deprived of this arrangement, said the former CEC who has authored a book titled 'An Undocumented Wonder- The Making of the Great Indian Election'.
He was speaking on the topic, "Counting Every Vote", along with veteran journalist N Ram.
Underlining the importance of each vote, Quraishi recalled the defeat of Congress leader C P Joshi who lost by one vote (in 2008 Rajasthan Assembly polls).
Interestingly, his wife and daughter had reportedly not cast their own votes.
The former IAS officer said, "The day I took charge of the commission, I had two challenges - first (to curb) money power and second (to address) voters apathy to cast vote. We succeeded a lot (in tackling these challenges) but we still need to do a lot more."
Quraishi batted for the voting rights of undertrials of the country and said polling stations can be set up within prisons to let them exercise their franchise.
Senior journalist Ram said that despite the EC doing a great job, it has failed to curb money power and bribing of voters.
"I don't think the Election Commission is solely accountable for it. There is, I think, one area where the commission has failed -- that is to curb the use of money that is paid to voters as a bribe.
"Every voter is somehow paid a bribe before casting his or her vote. This is by and large due to corruption. This is not a pathological phenomenon but rather a normal phenomenon."
He raised the issue of the government cracking down on unaccounted money in funding political parties and said putting a cap of Rs 2,000 on cash donations is a "joke".
"Today the government is cracking down on unaccounted money in funding political parties, but it has made it easier for big corporates and high net-worth individuals to make anonymous (political) donations," the noted journalist said.
"And the move to lower anonymous cash donations from Rs 20,000 to 2,000 is like a joke because now under the new provisions, anyone can buy electoral bonds (to be issued by the government) with whatever amount without revealing his name and can legalise cash donations," Ram said.