Unhappy with minister's reply, opposition parties walk out of Rajya Sabha over Bill to appoint CEC, ECs

The bill, which was introduced in the House on August 10, seeks to replace the 1991 Act which did not have a clause related to the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other ECs.
Samajwadi Party (SP) MP Ram Gopal Yadav (middle) and others after staging a walkout from Rajya Sabha in the ongoing Winter Session, in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Photo | ANI)
Samajwadi Party (SP) MP Ram Gopal Yadav (middle) and others after staging a walkout from Rajya Sabha in the ongoing Winter Session, in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Photo | ANI)

NEW DELHI: Unhappy with the Union minister's reply to the discussion on the bill regulating the appointment of CEC and election commissioners, leaders of several opposition parties on Tuesday walked out of Rajya Sabha in protest, alleging the government wanted to control the poll panel.

They said that Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal's reply to the debate on the bill was unconvincing and asked why the government replaced the Chief Justice of India with a Union minister in the selection committee for appointment of the chief election commissioner (CEC) and other election commissioners.

"The independence, autonomy and impartiality of poll machinery in the country have been crushed under the bulldozer," Congress' Randeep Surjewala alleged on the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023 that was passed by a voice vote in the Upper House.

After the walkout, senior Samajwadi Party MP Ram Gopal Yadav said, "It has now become clear that this government wants to have total control over the Election Commission and wants to tilt the election process in their favour."

"Now there is no scope of holding impartial elections," he claimed.

Surjewala said the Modi government has attacked India's Constitution with this legislation and the opposition parties are standing together in one voice against it.

"They will appoint their own CEC and ECs and will run the EC of their own will and will decide victory and defeat on their own will," he said.

"We will not allow this voice to die and this struggle will continue from Parliament to the streets," he said.

Congress deputy leader in Rajya Sabha Pramod Tiwari said opposition parties were of the view that justice should be done and not just "seen to be done".

"Does the government not have faith in the Chief Justice or the Supreme Court. Today is a black day for Indian democracy," he said.

Asked if they would move court on the issue, he said, "We will decide on the future course of action after discussion.

"Tiruchi Siva (DMK) said the Supreme Court judgement has said the CEC and ECs should be appointed by a committee comprising of the prime minister, the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India. He said as per this bill, the committee for CEC appointment shall comprise the PM, LoP and a union minister appointed by the prime minister instead of the chief justice. So it is very clear that the majority lies with the government side. Now only two panel members can decide. The search committee comprises of bureaucrats," he said.

The EC is very important in a democratic country to ensure free and fair elections.

"But, they cannot be yes men to the government. The minister's reply did not convince us and we were compelled to stage a walkout," he said.

TMC's Sukhendu Sekhar Ray said, "What prompted the government to replace the Chief Justice with a minister to be nominated by the prime minister? The government did not have any reply, with a result that we staged a walkout."

AAP MP Raghav Chadha alleged it is "not a bill but a bulldozer with which the government has finished the Election Commission's impartiality."

"The biggest insult is of BJP's margdarshak L K Adani, who had himself said that the committee should be impartial and should not be in the control of the government. The BJP wants the committee can appoint anyone as Election Commissioner, even their partymen or party sympathisers. This is a very dangerous law which will end democracy in India, which is considered as the mother of democracy," he claimed.

He also said that they will take a decision on whether to move the Supreme Court on this issue after consulting their legal experts.

JMM leader Mahua Majhi said there is no point in having the leader of the opposition on this committee as the government will have a majority.

"I feel the government is afraid of keeping the Chief Justice of India on the committee. This bill is very dangerous and is a disaster," she alleged.

Replying to the debate, Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal said the new bill has been necessitated as the earlier Act had certain weaknesses.

He rebutted the Opposition charge that the bill had been brought to circumvent the SC judgement.

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