Row over EC’s meet: Govt says letter was for secretary or an official representative, not CEC

Amid a controversy over a government communication reportedly calling the Chief Election Commissioner to a meeting, the law ministry Saturday said the letter was meant for a secretary of the poll panel or a representative of the CEC, and the subsequent virtual interaction with the CEC and two ECs was to iron out differences over electoral reforms.

In a statement, the law ministry said the Prime Minister’s Office had written to the cabinet secretary, the law secretary and the legislative secretary for a meeting on November 16 on common electoral rolls.

“It was not addressed to the Chief Election Commissioner. Since the 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 the Election Commission to this meeting,” the statement read. The letter by the legislative department was addressed to Secretary and the final operative paragraph of the letter also requested the Secretary, the Election Commission of India to attend the meeting, it said.

“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 statement said.

The November 16 meeting was to finalise the cabinet note on some of the reforms and it was held virtually, the ministry said.

“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,” the statement said.

The opposition has hit out at the government, claiming that by “summoning” CEC to the PMO, the government has undermined the autonomy of the poll panel.

The Congress is likely to move a notice Monday for adjournment of proceedings in Lok Sabha over the issue.

The government statement also said that several proposals of the Election Commission of India (ECI) regarding electoral reforms have been pending for a long time.

“Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) has addressed several letters…to the Law Minister that the pending reforms may be considered expeditiously. Legislative Department is the nodal department regarding matters related to Election Commission and regular interaction takes place between officials of ECI and Legislative department,” it said.

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, the statement said.

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