While the Election Commission is supposed to transact its business unanimously as far as possible, Commissioner Ashok Lavasa has dissented with the opinion of his colleagues in some recent matters. Under what circumstances did the EC become a multi-member body? What is its procedure when Commissioners disagree?

When and under what circumstances did the Election Commission of India (ECI) become a three-member body?
Article 324 of the Constitution vests the “superintendence, direction and control of elections” in an Election Commission consisting “of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix”.

From the commencement of the Constitution on January 26, 1950 until 1989, the ECI was a single-member body, with only a Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). The ECI was expanded just ahead of the elections to the ninth Lok Sabha and made three member body.

What is the procedure for disposal of matters that come before the Election Commission of India?
Files are normally initiated at the level of the relevant sections/divisions in the Commission’s secretariat, and they move upwards, going up to the Deputy Election Commissioners (DECs) or Directors General (DGs) of the relevant divisions. The DECs/DGs then mark the files needing the Commission’s decisions or directions to the ECs in order of their seniority. With the observations of the ECs, the file ultimately goes to the CEC.

In some cases, where any of the ECs or CEC desire a matter to be discussed in person, that matter is deliberated upon in the meetings of the full Commission, which are normally attended by the concerned DECs and DGs as well. The decisions taken in those meetings are then formally recorded in the file concerned.

What happens if any of the Election Commissioners dissent?
If some difference of opinion persists even after oral deliberations and discussions, such dissent is recorded in the file. All opinions carry equal weight, which means the CEC can be overruled by the two ECs. In normal practice, while communicating the decision of the Commission, the majority view is conveyed to the parties concerned. The dissent remains recorded in the file.

However, despite the existence of the provision to take decisions by majority since 1993, very rarely has dissent been recorded. When a matter is deliberated upon by the three Commissioners in a Commission meeting, they normally agree to a common course of action. This does not, however, mean that there is no disagreement between the Commissioners — there are certain instances in the past where a consensus could not be arrived at even at the meeting.