VIJAYAWADA: The State government is set to issue an ordinance very soon amending the Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj Act-1994 to change the tenure, eligibility and method of appointment of the State Election Commissioner (SEC) as part of electoral reforms to ensure an independent, fair and neutral person holds the high office.
Highly-placed sources told TNIE that under the proposed ordinance, only a person who has held the office of the judge of a HC will be eligible for appointment as the SEC.
Currently, a person who is holding or has held an office not lower than the rank of a principal secretary can be appointed as the SEC — in effect, only bureaucrats are eligible.
The tenure of the SEC will also be brought down to three years from the present five. There will be scope to continue the incumbent for three more years but no person can occupy the office for more than six years.
The pay, perks, allowances and pension of the SEC will be on a par with High Court judges.
Since the Assembly is not in session and in view of the coronavirus pandemic, it is not possible to hold one, the proposal will be placed before the Cabinet for approval. Ministers, who are now in their respective constituencies, were told to submit their opinion by Thursday evening.
The government move was waiting to happen ever since State Election Commissioner N Ramesh Kumar deferred polls to ZPTC, MPTC, municipal bodies and gram panchayats scheduled for March 21, 23, 27 and 29.
The SEC on March 14 cited the coronavirus pandemic and deferred the polls for six weeks while stating that the model code of conduct would be in force till then.
The State government had moved the apex court but the latter upheld the SEC decision while scrapping the model code of conduct.
Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy had at the time expressed displeasure over the SEC’s decision and the YSRC alleged that Ramesh Kumar was working at the behest of the TDP. With the new ordinance, the government wants to appoint a retired high court judge as the SEC in place of Ramesh Kumar. The SEC is appointed as per Article 243(K) of the Constitution and the AP Panchayat Raj Act 1994.
‘Proposed ordinance not violative of Article 243 (K)’
Article 243(K) says, “Subject to the provisions of any law made by the Legislature of a State, the conditions of service and tenure of office of the State Election Commissioner shall be such as the Governor may by rule determine: Provided that the State Election Commissioner shall not be removed from his office except in like manner and on the like ground as a Judge of a High Court and the conditions of service of the State Election Commissioner shall not be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment.”
It means there is no way other than impeachment by two-third’s majority in Parliament if the SEC is to be removed. It is learnt that Chief Secretary Nilam Sawhney has conveyed that the proposed ordinance could be violative of Article 243 (K). The government it appears took the opinion of the Advocate General (AG) who was of the view that since the objective was electoral reform to ensure neutral, fair and independent SEC, it cannot be violative of the Article.
Sources said the government is prepared to face Ramesh Kumar in court as the latter is likely to challenge his removal. The AG reportedly cited the Allahabad HC verdict in the Aparmita Prasad Singh vs State of UP in 2007 wherein it ruled that cessation of office on the introduction of a new law doesn’t amount to removal.
SEC shall be person who has held office of HC judge
Tenure to be three years instead of five
Max stint of 6 years
Ramesh Kumar will cease to be SEC as result of govt move