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ELECTION COMMISSION

Superintendence, direction and control of preparation of electoral rolls for, and the conduct of elections, to Parliament and state legislatures and elections to the office of President and Vice-President of India are vested in the Election Commission of India. It is an independent constitutional authority set up in pursuance of Article 324(1) of the Constitution of India. Since its inception in 1950 and till October 1989, the Commission functioned as a single member body consisting of the Chief Election Commissioner.

On 16 October 1989, the President appointed two more Election Commissioners on the eve of the general election to the House of the People held in November-December 1989. However, the said two Commissioners ceased to hold office on 1 January 1990 when those two posts of Election Commissioners were abolished. Again on 1 October 1993, the President appointed two more Election Commissioners. Simultaneously, law [Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Conditions of Service) Act, 1991] was also amended provide that the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners will enjoy equal powers and will receive equal salary, allowances and other perquisites. The law further provided that in case of difference of opinion amongst the Chief Election Commissioner and/or two other Election Commissioners, the matters will be decided by the Commission by majority. The validity of that law [renamed in 1993 as the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991] was challenged before the Supreme Court. The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court consisting of five judges, however, dismissed the petitions and fully upheld the provisions of the above law by a unanimous judgement on 14 July 1995.

Independence of Election Commission and its insulation from executive interference is ensured by a specific provision in Article 324(5) of the Constitution to the effect that Chief Election Commissioner shall not be removed from his office except in like manner and on like grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court and conditions of his service shall not be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment. The other Election Commissioners cannot be removed from office except on recommendation by the Chief Election Commissioner.

The Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners are entitled to the same salary and other facilities, like rent free accommodation, as are provided to a judge of the Supreme Court. The term of office of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners is six years from the date he assumes office or till the day he attains the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. Plenary powers and superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls and the conduct of elections vested in the Election Commission under Article 324 of the Constitution are supplemented further by Acts of Parliament, namely. Representation of the People Act, 1950, Representation of the People Act, 1951, Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Acts, 1952, Government of Union Territories Act, 1963, Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991 and the Rules and Orders under them.

PANCHAYATS

Article 40 of the Constitution which enshrines one of the Directive Principles of State Policy lays down that the State shall take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and, authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.

In the light of the above a new Part IX relating to the Panchayats has been inserted in the Constitution to provide for among other things. Gram Sabha in a village or group of villages; constitution of Panchayats at village and other level or levels; direct elections to all seats in Panchayats at the village and intermediate level, if any, and to the offices of Chairpersons of Panchayats at such levels; reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population for membership of Panchayats and office of Chairpersons in Panchayats at each level; reservation of not less than one-third of the seats for women; fixing tenure of five years for Panchayats and holding elections within a period of six months in the event of supersession of any Panchayat.

MUNICIPALITIES

Municipal bodies have a long history in India. The first such Municipal Corporation was set up in the former Presidency Town of Madras in 1688; and was followed by similar corporations in Bombay and Calcutta in 1726. The Constitution of India has made detailed provisions for ensuring protection of democracy in Parliament and in the state legislatures.

However, Constitution did not make the local self-government in urban areas a clear-cut constitutional obligation. While the Directive Principles of State Policy refer to village, Panchayats, there is no specific reference to Municipalities except the implicity in Entry 5 of the State List, which places the subject of local self governments as a responsibility of the states.

In order to provide for a common framework for urban local bodies and help to strengthen the functioning of the bodies as effective democratic units of self-government, Parliament enacted the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992 relating to municipalities in 1992. The Act received the assent of the President on 20 April 1993. The Government of India notified 1 June 1993 as the date from which the said Act came into force. A new part IX-A relating to the Municipalities has been incorporated in the Constitution to provide for among other things, constitution of three types of Municipalities, i.e., Nagar Panchayats for areas in transition from a rural area to urban area. Municipal Councils for smaller urban areas and Municipal Corporation for large urban areas, fixed duration of municipalities, appointment of state election commission, appointment of state finance commission and constitution of metropolitan and district planning committees. All States have set up their finance commissions. For conducting elections to urban local bodies, all States/UTs have set up their election commissions.


 

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