Navin B Chawla - Initiatives as Chief Election Commissioner
  • A considerable achievement was the completion, to national and international acclaim, of the 16th General Election of April-May, 2009. This was a phased election process, and was received within the country with approval and, for such a large country with articulate people and a vibrant press, very few complaints A few editorials did ask the Election Commission why the process could not be shortened from the almost month long frame.
  • He took strong affirmative action against criminality on the electoral scene to the extent that the inherent powers of the Commission permitted. This was done by initiating a move that all criminal cases registered against contestants during the election period, by and at the behest of the ECI, would not be closed by the government after elections were over. Instead, all such electoral related offences would have to face the law and would have to respect legal verdicts.
  • He sought a Constitutional amendment to bring on par the process of removal of Election Commissioners on par with that for the Chief, ( i.e. by an impeachment process). In the process he sought to complete the process laid down in the Seshan judgement of the Supreme Court, which gave equal powers, functional autonomy and equal emoluments to both Election Commissioners on par with the Chief. Indeed, the Supreme Court provided for 2 to 1 decision making powers, even enabling the 2 Commissioners to overrule the Chief. Citing two previous episodes, (including the demand by his predecessor for his removal), he wrote to the Prime Minister and urged his Government for an early amendment that would afford important protection against attempts at arbitrary removal before closure of term. The letter was written by the CEC after the full Commission met and endorsed this. The Government did not initiate any move in this direction.
  • He called for radical reforms to enable the approximately 1 million population of Transgenders to exercise a preference to vote in a new category of "Other", instead of being compelled to vote as 'Male' or 'Female'. The issue was first raised by students at a Law during the course of Q and A after a lecture by him as CEC on the subject of electoral reforms (see lecture series). As no statuary amendment was needed, he presided over a full Election Commission decision, which approved a change in the Rules. This reform has since become a major human rights issue, and is being taken up by some other Election Commissions and human rights organizations. It was also followed by a Supreme Court judgement strengthening transgender rights further.
  • Close on the heels of its radical reform allowing eunuchs to describe themselves as ''other'', the Election Commission discussed his proposal to redress the legal anomaly under which under trial prisoners in India have the right to contest elections but not to vote! At various forums Navin B Chawla spoke about enfranchising under trial prisoners, although the Supreme Court of India had on more than one occasion validated the existing restriction, Section 62(5) of the Representation of Peoples Act. Expressing disagreement with the Supreme Court's view, Navin B Chawla believed that he found it more logical to deny under trial prisoners the right to contest, rather than deny them the right to vote. He once commented: ''While I got the idea of conferring formal recognition on transgender persons from meetings with students, I owe my sensitivity to under trial prisoners to my association with Mother Teresa, Navin B Chawla said at a seminar on electoral reforms.
  • Special facilities for visually impaired voters were provided when 1.3 million Electoral Voting Machines were adapted to enable visually-impaired but Braille literate voters, to cast their vote independent of any assistance. Some special auxiliary polling stations were also set up at institutes for the visually impaired.
  • In time for the 2009 General Election, 82% of all eligible voters (approx 582 million) were provided Electoral Photo Identity Cards (EPIC). Before demitting office, he set a target to achieve 100% production and distribution of EPIC cards to the entire voting population of the India by December 2011. This impetus, now a time bound goal, helped with other measures, to achieve about 95 % coverage in time for the 2014 election.