Panel of PM, Opn leader, CJI to appoint Chief Election Commissioner, former heads of poll body hail move

  • ‘In a democracy, the purity of elections must be maintained or else it would lead to disastrous consequences
  • EC will have an independent secretariat, rule-making powers, an independent budget, and equal protection from impeachment
  • Independent political parties and some opposition leaders strongly questioned the EC’s independence in recent times

In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court on Thursday said that Election Commissioners will be appointed by a panel, which would comprise the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. The SC’s direction was welcomed by opposition leaders and former chief election commissioners.

A Constitution bench of Justices KM Joseph, Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar said the practice will continue till Parliament makes a law for these appointments.

It said: “The Election Commissioners will be appointed by the President of India on the advice of a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, and leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, or leader of largest opposition party in cases where there is not enough numerical strength for a leader of opposition, and the Chief Justice of India.”

The top court rule that the absence of a Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the leader of the single largest Opposition party will be on the committee to appoint the chief election commissioner and election commissioners.

“Elections should undoubtedly be fair and the buck stops with the Election Commission of India to ensure its purity is maintained,” the panel said on Thursday.

“In a democracy, the purity of elections must be maintained or else it would lead to disastrous consequences,” said the panel.

The SC’s bench was hearing a batch of petitions seeking an independent mechanism for appointing election commissioners amid increasing accusation of biases on election body officials by the opposition leaders as well as political analysts. Independent political parties and some opposition leaders strongly questioned the EC’s independence in recent times.

The petitioners argued that since the president is bound by the advice of the prime minister and council of ministers, the appointment of the election commissioners is a solely executive decision. This “gives ample room for the ruling party to choose someone whose loyalty is to [be] ensured and thereby renders the selection process vulnerable to manipulation and partisanship”, one of the petitions stated.

At present, President appoints the Chief Election Commissioner and two commissioners for a term of six years each on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Following the latest verdict, the Election Commission will have an independent secretariat, rule-making powers, an independent budget, and equal protection from impeachment.

Former CECs hail move

Former chief election commissioners SY Quraishi, VS Sampath and Naveen Chawla welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to appoint a committee to select election commissioners, according to Hindustan Times.

“It’s a very welcome judgment and has been a long awaited demand,” Quraishi said. “This reform has been pending for over two decades, with even the Law Commission of India recommending it. It is very important for the perception of neutrality and non-partisanship of the autonomous body that the Commission is.”

“The selection by a committee will always be that the selection by a government order. It is, indeed, a welcome decision,” Sampath said. He added that it would bring transparency in the selection process. He said: “The very fact that the names under consideration will have to stand the scrutiny of the court and the opposition will also ensure better quality in the selection.”

Chawla said, “This reform is long overdue and will make the working of the Commissioners an easier and stronger process. They will no longer be dependent only on the executive but the judiciary and the opposition will have a stake in their appointment. This will provide satisfaction to the political parties and assure them that the working of the Commission is independent of government pressure.”


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