The Election Commission is preparing to take up with the government the latter’s decision in the Union budget to do away with income tax exemptions given to the three election commissioners since 1991.
ET has learnt that the grounds that the ECI may raise are likely to be based on Article 324(5) of the Constitution that states that “the conditions of service of the Chief Election Commissioner shall not be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment”.
The other point is how the budget proposal will work against the provisions that put the CEC and ECs on par with Supreme Court judges. Doing away with these exemptions takes away this parity. As per the Election Commission Act, 1991, which governs the functioning of the ECI, the service conditions relating to the CEC and the ECs are on par with Supreme Court judges.
Queries to the ECI on the matter went unanswered as of press time. The Centre’s move, comes even as the ECI is conducting elections in Delhi and the model code of conduct is in effect. It also comes within days of the ECI taking strong action against BJP leaders Anurag Thakur and Pravesh Verma for their provocative comments during the Delhi campaign.
The Finance Bill 2020 has proposed to amend Section 8 of the Election Commission Act, 1991 (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business), to do away with “the exemption from income tax on value of rent free residence, conveyance facilities, sumptuary allowance, medical facilities and other such conditions of service as are applicable to a judge of the Supreme Court, paid to the Chief Election Commissioners and other Election Commissioners”. This would also have significant financial implications.
An Election Commissioner is paid on par with a Supreme Court judge at about Rs 2.5 lakh. However, pension is deducted in case of retired officials, which would amount to a deduction of around Rs 1.12 lakh in salary.
The CEC and the ECs get rent-free and furnished residences, conveyance facilities and a sumptuary allowance. However, income tax imposition on residence –– usually at the sprawling New Moti Bagh complex –– could burn a big hole in the pockets. It is estimated that under the proposed new taxation, taxes to the tune of Rs 60,000-70,000 may have to be paid by the ECs and CEC against a final salary of Rs 1.38 lakh.
“This is not a healthy move for various reasons. You are making it pinch. This is an entirely avoidable and undesirable proposal,” a former CEC told ET on condition of anonymity.
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