EC combative on `cooling off` clause for bureaucrats in polls

Election Commission has come out strongly against government`s rejection of its long pending proposal for cooling off period for bureaucrats joining any political party.

PTI| Updated: Nov 24, 2013, 19:33 PM IST

New Delhi: Election Commission has come out strongly against government`s rejection of its long pending proposal for cooling off period for bureaucrats joining any political party, saying such a provision is "more than justified" for ensuring neutrality in conduct of polls and otherwise.

This is the third time, within a period of over one year, that the Commission has written to the government on the issue and sources privy to the development said the EC is "very serious" about the proposal as it wants a "level playing" field before the general elections next year.

The Union Law Ministry, after getting opinion of Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati on the EC`s proposal, had communicated to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) which subsequently informed the EC sometime back that such a proposal?"would not be in harmony of the provisions of the Constitution" and such a step against bureaucrats "may not be appropriate and feasible".

The EC has shot back saying it has asked for a ban on bureaucrats joining political party immediately after leaving service and not on their contesting election.

"Cooling off period for joining a political party has been misconstrued as cooling off period for contesting elections.

"It is clarified that Commission in order to maintain such independence and neutrality had recommended cooling off period for a person on his ceasing to be a government employee, from joining any political party, and not from contesting elections, as the interpretation of the learned AG is related to contesting elections.

"Further, the right to contest an election is a statutory right and not a Fundamental right (as opined by the learned AG).... Hence any such restriction in service rules would be quite reasonable and justifiable and certainly will not be in contravention of the provisions laid down under Article 14 of the Constitution of India," the EC said in its recent letter to the DoPT and Law Ministry.

The EC, in its combative two-page letter, said that it has recommended for cooling off period for government servants, against joining a political party, for protecting interests of the people of India who are "the ultimate rulers in a democracy ".

The Commission reiterated and said such a clause for the civil servants was needed as elections in India are conducted "through" none other than government servants themselves.

The EC also said that it was worried on this subject as it was in know of certain aberrations that have occurred in the past.

"Reports are received that some government servants act for the furtherance of prospects or interests of a political party while in government service and just before or after the election, join the party on retirement or leaving the service.

"Such officers` neutrality during election process is suspect and conduct of free and fair election by them or by their immediate sub-ordinates is affected adversely.

"Moreover, if cooling off period is provided against joining any commercial establishment, which may be violation of the fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (g), on the grounds that they might have dealt with the matter relating to commercial establishment, it is more than justified to provide such cooling off period from joining any political party in order to ensure their neutrality in conduct of elections and otherwise also," the EC said.

The Commission, in its first communication on the subject last year, had suggested that amendments in service rules of IAS, IPS and other class `A` services officials could be made to enable this protocol.

While there are rules at present which restrict a civil servant from joining a private job for at least a year after he or she retires or resigns from the government service,? there are no rules regarding joining political parties or active politics.