'No Impropriety, As Top Election Officials Summoned By PM's Office'

New Delhi: Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and fellow Commissioners Rajiv Kumar and Anoop Chandra Pandey recently held an "informal interaction" with the Prime Minister's Office to bridge gaps in understanding of key electoral reforms between the poll panel and the Law Ministry, with Election Commission sources insisting today that the question of propriety does not arise in doing so.

The commission had been pushing for reforms in electoral laws and related issues, and the virtual interaction in November was held to "bridge the gaps in understanding the points of views of the Law Ministry and the Election Commission (EC)", they said.

The sources told news agency PTI that amid a series of correspondence between the government and the poll panel on electoral reforms, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) took the lead in organising the "informal interaction" with the three commissioners.

Responding to a news report by The Indian Express on Friday that the Law Ministry had sent a letter to the Election Commission saying that the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister will chair a meeting on common electoral roll and "expects the CEC" to be present, the sources told Press Trust of India the three commissioners did not attend that formal meeting.

Responding to the news report, former Chief Election Commissoner (CEC) SY Quraishi said it was "absolutely shocking". When asked to explain his remarks, he said his words have summed up everything.

The Congress too has slammed the government saying "PMO summoning ECI was unheard of in independent India. Treating EC as a subservient tool is yet another low in Modi Government's record of destroying every institution."

The sources told news agency PTI that senior Election Commission officials attended the formal meeting, besides officials from the Law Ministry.

The Legislative Department in the Law Ministry is the nodal agency for Election Commission-related matters.

The sources told Press Trust of India that the result of the informal interaction with the PM's Office resulted in the Union Cabinet on Wednesday clearing various electoral reforms that the Election Commission had been insisting be brought in the ongoing Winter session of Parliament.

One of the reforms is linking Aadhaar with electoral rolls on a voluntary basis. The other will allow eligible young people to register as voters on four dates every year. As of now there is one qualifying date - January 1 of every year - to register as a voter for those who have turned 18 or above on January 1.

The sources pointed out that crucial electoral reforms have been pending for the last 25 years.

The Election Commission had been writing to the government for pushing reforms and the Law Ministry had been seeking clarifications. The informal interaction, the sources said, helped bridge the gaps in understanding on key issues. "Reforms have to be done like that," a senior Election Commission functionary told PTI.

There is no impropriety in pushing for reforms, the sources asserted.

They reminded that Chief Election Commissioners have written letters to law ministers, including Ravi Shankar Prasad and incumbent Kiren Rijiju, seeking their help in implementing electoral reforms.

Usually, law ministers and legislative secretaries have been meeting the commissioners on various issues at the Nirvachan Sadan. The commissioners never call on the ministers as part of protocol since the Election Commission is an independent Constitutional body.

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