CEC was not invited to electoral reform meeting on November 16, says law ministry

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New Delhi: The Union law ministry said on Saturday that the chief election commissioner (CEC) was not invited to attend a meeting on electoral reforms held on November 16 and the legislative department had, instead, asked the secretary of the poll watchdog or a representative for the event.

In a press communiqué, the ministry said that the after the official meeting, a subsequent “informal interaction” was held virtually with the CEC and the two ECs for “ironing out two or three aspects” for the final proposal on electoral reforms.

“The meeting of 16.11.2021 was to finalise the cabinet note on some of the reforms and it was held virtually. The subsequent interaction with the chief election commissioner and two election commissioners was an informal one and meant for ironing out two or three aspects for the final proposal,” said the communiqué, in response to media reports.

In its statement, the ministry said that several EC proposals regarding electoral reforms were pending and the CEC had written to the Union law minister several times to consider the reforms expeditiously. The statement also noted that the legislative department was the nodal department regarding EC matters and “regular interaction” took place between EC officials and the department.

The communiqué said several meetings were held by the cabinet secretary and the PMO on a common electoral roll.

“The PMO ID dated 12.11.2021 regarding a meeting on common electoral roll to be held on 16.11.2021 was addressed to the cabinet secretary, law secretary and secretary, legislative department. it was not addressed to the chief election commissioner. Since Election Commission Of India has the necessary expertise and mandate regarding electoral roll and in the light of the previous letters of the chief election commissioner addressed to the law minister, secretary, legislative department thought it appropriate to invite officials of election commission to this meeting,” said the statement.

The undersecretary of the legislative department sent a letter dated November 15 to the secretary of the EC to attend the meeting the next day. The letter was addressed to secretary and also requested the EC secretary to attend the meeting, said the communiqué.

“After receipt of the letter by the ECI, the chief election commissioner spoke to secretary, legislative department expressing his displeasure over the expression in the middle part of the letter which gave an impression that it was expected of the CEC to attend the meeting. Secretary, legislative department clarified that the letter was for Secretary or a representative of the CEC familiar with the subject to attend the meeting,” the ministry said in the press release.

The ministry further clarified that the meeting was a virtual one and was attended by the officials of the Government of India and EC officials. “After the meeting of Officials, certain issues required further fine-tuning. These issues include the number of qualifying dates for updation of electoral roll, some aspects of Aadhaar linkage and requisition of premises,” said the statement.

After the official meeting, a separate informal interaction was held virtually with the CEC and the two ECs. “It may be noted that the discussion was held together with all three Commissioners of ECI, and virtually,” the ministry said.

The ministry statement said that after the deliberations with the EC, a proposal was drafted by the legislative department that was placed for consideration before the Union Cabinet “that has approved proposal for introducing “The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill 2021 during the current session of the Parliament”.

“It is reiterated that the legislative department organises meetings with officers of the Election Commission and other relevant government departments in matters related to electoral reforms,” said the statement.

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