Thursday, February 22, 2024

Supreme Court verdict to appoint CEC, ECs on advice of PM, LoP, CJI


New Delhi: The Supreme Court has given a historic verdict on the top appointments to be made in the Election Commission. After the court decision, central government control over the Election Commission will not remain as before. Due to this, the electoral system can also change completely in the coming days.

Ending the 73-year-old system of the government appointing the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the creation of a three-member panel comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha or leader of the largest opposition party, and the Chief Justice of India to select them.

In a unanimous verdict, a five-judge Constitution Bench led by Justice KM Joseph said the CEC and ECs should be appointed by the President on the advice of the three-member panel.

The Bench made a “fervent appeal” to the government/ Parliament to consider bringing in the necessary changes to put in place a permanent Secretariat for the EC and charging its expenditure to the Consolidated Fund of India to make it “truly independent”.

“This norm will continue to hold good till a law is made by Parliament,” said the Bench, which also included Justice Ajay Rastogi, Justice Aniruddha Bose, Justice Hrishikesh Roy, and Justice CT Ravikumar.

It gave the examples of the Lokpal and CBI Director whose appointments were done by broad-based panels, which included the CJI and LoP to prescribe the new system of appointing the CEC and ECs. Justice Rastogi delivered a separate concurring judgment to say that the grounds for the removal of Election Commissioners should be the same as those of the Chief Election Commissioner.

Noting that “Our Constitution took a visionary step by extending the franchise to everyone,” the Bench declared the right to vote in direct elections to be a fundamental right.

During the hearing, the top court had questioned the “tearing hurry” and the “lightning speed” with which the government appointed Punjab-cadre IAS officer Arun Goel as Election Commissioner even as Attorney General R Venkataramani defended the mechanism followed in appointing the CEC and ECs.

“A person who is weak-kneed before the powers that be cannot be appointed as Election Commissioner. A person in a state of obligation or feeling indebted to the one who appointed him fails the nation and can have no place in the conduct of elections, forming the very foundation of democracy.

“An independent person cannot be biased. Holding the scales evenly, even in the stormiest of times, not being servile to the powerful, but coming to the rescue of the weak and the wronged, who are otherwise in the right, would qualify as true independence,” it said. “It is important that the appointment must not be overshadowed by even a perception that a ‘yes man’ will decide the fate of democracy and all that it promises,” the Bench noted.

The verdict came on petitions seeking a Collegium-like “independent” mechanism to appoint the CEC and ECs. The petitioners suggested that such a Collegium could consist of the PM, CJI and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha to select the CEC and ECs.

Several successive governments failed to introduce a law on the appointment of Election Commissioners, it said. It lamented that “a large section of the media has abdicated its role and become partisan”. “The impact of ‘big money’ and its power to influence polls, and the influence of certain sections of media also make it absolutely imperative that the appointment of the Election Commission becomes a matter which cannot be postponed further,” it said.

Congress welcomed the Supreme Court verdict and demanded to apply the same formula to Enforcement Directorate (ED) appointments.

“We strongly welcome the historic decision of the Supreme Court, wherein it held that the chief election commissioner must be appointed by way of a committee comprising the prime minister, the CJI, and the leader of the opposition,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters here.

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