VIJAYAWADA: Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan on Friday approved the Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj (Second Amendment) Ordinance to change the tenure, eligibility and method of appointment of the State Election Commissioner (SEC).
The State government had marked the ordinance confidential soon after its approval, but placed it in the public domain later in the evening. As reported by TNIE, under the amended Act, only a person who has held the office of a judge of a High Court will be eligible to be appointed as SEC.
Currently, a person who is holding or has held an office not lower than the rank of a principal secretary can be appointed to the post. The tenure will be three years instead of five, and there will be scope for the incumbent to continue for up to three more years.
The government also issued a notification to the effect that with the ordinance coming into force, incumbent SEC N Ramesh Kumar ceases to hold office. Further, as per the ordinance, the SEC will be a full-time officer and will have the status of a High Court judge. As soon as the ordinance was approved by the Governor, the TDP and YSRC locked horns on the issue, with the latter terming it a much-needed electoral reform, and the former calling it unconstitutional.
SEC’s removal act of personal vengeance, says Kanna
In an email to the Governor, Leader of Opposition N Chandrababu Naidu said the YSRC-led government has brought in amendment to Section 200 of AP PR Act, 1994 with vicious plans to remove the present SEC. He said that currently, elections to local bodies have been postponed due to the coronavirus threat. Thus, local body elections are in the process. In such circumstances, what is the need to bring in an amendment through the back door in the form of an ordinance to change the term and eligibility of the SEC, he asked.
The TDP chief said incumbent SEC N Ramesh Kumar has been appointed by the Governor in exercise of the powers conferred under Article 243 K of the Constitution of India read with Sub-Section (2) of Section 200 of the AP Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 on January 30, 1994. Describing the amendments made as illegal and unethical, he said the amendment is only applicable after the present SEC demits office.
Defending the government’s decision, senior YSRC leader Ambati Rambabu said the amendment was a policy decision of the government and questioned the objections of the TDP leaders.
Stating that the Governor has approved the ordinance, he said the SEC should be impartial or it would harm democratic values. Ambati maintained that the decision was not targeted at any individual but was aimed at reforming the system. The YSRC leader said as the SEC is appointed by the Governor, the new amendment should also be approved by him. “We have acted as per the law and the Constitution,” he maintained. Taking exception to the criticism from Opposition parties, he said there is no need for the Centre to intervene as this is a State subject.
Taking objection to the State government’s decision to replace N Ramesh Kumar as SEC, BJP State chief Kanna Lakshminarayana shot off letters to Chief Election Commissioner of India Sunil Arora and Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan, saying the Jagan government’s decision was in violation of the Constitution. He alleged the removal of the SEC was an act of personal vengeance following Ramesh Kumar’s decision to postpone the local body elections.