On Friday, 10th April 2020, the Andhra Pradesh Government came up with an ordinance bringing reforms in tenure of State Election Commissioner (SEC). The said ordinance reduced the term of SEC from five to three years. As a result, N. Ramesh Kumar (SEC) was removed from his office as he served his office for more than 3 years.
To everyone’s surprise, this ordinance was promulgated overnight. The Andhra Pradesh Government didn’t specify the reasons as to what was the urgent need to promulgate an ordinance, why can’t it wait for the Assembly to be convened. Also, what was the urgent need to reduce the tenure of SEC. The government asserted it necessary for making the constitutional body independent and to ensure fair elections. But it couldn’t answer what was the urgency for such ordinance during the time of health emergency and why the changes regarding the tenure of SEC weren’t made before the election started. It came up with the ordinance just before the last phase of elections.
Recently, Ramesh Kumar deferred the local elections due to the coronavirus crisis. The government disliked his decision of postponement. Thereby, it approached the Apex court. But to their surprise, the Court refused to interfere with the decision of SEC. Just after this incident A.P Government promulgated the ordinance to oust Ramesh Kumar and appointed Madras High Court retired judge as the new SEC.
This is another time when a government has tried to do something indirectly which it can’t do directly. The constitution is clear in this aspect that SEC can be removed only in the same manner as a High Court Judge. The government has acted in violation of Article 243K of the Constitution. The proviso to clause 2 of Article 243K states as:
“Provided that the State Election Commissioner shall not be removed from his office except in the 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 appears like a plan to oust the former SEC. The ordinance is an abuse of power. It stripped off the independence of the constitutional body i.e. SEC. Political influence over SEC can be witnessed through this act of the State Government. It is undemocratic and against free and fair elections.
The ordinance is challenged by Ramesh Kumar in High Court and this matter is being heard by a bench headed by Chief Justice Maheshwari. The Court has directed the government to file a reply. The court has to decide the legality of the said ordinance. It is the independence of judiciary which holds the trust of the public.
The independence of SEC must be restored and it should be kept beyond any political influence lest free and fair elections can’t be ensured. The fate of Former SEC and the independence of election authority will be decided by the Hon’ble court. It will hold open court hearing meanwhile keeping in mind social- distancing norms.
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