Opposition leaders have welcomed the Supreme Court verdict on Thursday (March 2) on the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners.
The Supreme Court ruled that the appointments of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners will be done by the President, on the advice of a committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India. This will be on the lines of how the CBI Director is appointed, the top court said.
The bench, also comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar, was delivering the verdict on a batch of petitions recommending reform in the process of appointment of members of the Election Commission of India.
Responding to the verdict, former CEC S Y Quraishi tweeted that “at last the SC has clinched it”.
“The demand has been pending for two decades. Good for the perception of neutrality of the Election Commission,” he added. Political leaders including those from Opposition parties called it a “landmark” and “historic” order.
Democratic victory, says Mamata Banerjee
Describing it as “democratic victory”, the TMC supremo said that the verdict shows the “will of the people prevails over ill-fated attempts of oppressive forces”. “(The) Supreme Courts landmark order is a democratic victory! We welcome the decision of the Constitution Bench on the appointment of Election Commissioners and Chief Election Commissioner. Will of the people prevails over the ill-fated attempts of the oppressive forces!” Banerjee tweeted
Congress hails verdict
Reacting to the verdict, Congress leader Randeep Surjewala said the top court has given the judgment in wake of the BJP’s attempts against democracy and the Constitution.
“The decision given by the Supreme Court is very significant. BJP’s conspiracy to weaken democratic values will never succeed,” Surjewala said in a tweet in Hindi.
Meanwhile, Punjab Congress MP Manish Tewari spoke of the private member’s Bill he had introduced. It had also sought the formation of a high-level committee headed by the Prime Minister and consisting of the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India to select the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners.
Tewari said on the ruling, “Article 324 should be amended to give an impartial Election Commission superintendence over internal processes of registered National and State Political Parties in terms of my Private Members Bill.” (Article 324 of the Constitution deals with the Election Commission)
Also read: EC appointment: ‘What’s the tearing hurry?’ SC asks; ‘hold your mouth,’ says Centre
‘Extremely Compromised EC to Extremely Competent EC’
“HUGE. So Extremely Comprised (EC) can again strive to become Extremely Competent (EC),” TMC MP Derek O’Brien said in a tweet.
Senior lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan called the Constitution Bench of Supreme Court verdict as a very historical judgement. It has directed that in future appointments of all election commissioners shall be done not by just the govt alone, but by a committee consisting of PM, LoP and CJI, he said.
Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi called it a “landmark” order. Earlier, it was the PM recommending names to the President, she pointed out.
Norm to hold good till law is passed
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph, in a unanimous verdict, also held that the norm will continue to hold good till a law on the issue is made by Parliament.
He also made an appeal to the Parliament and the Union of India to constitute a separate and independent secretariat for dealing with the expenditure of the Election Commission of India to cut it from any financial obligation to the government.
The apex court said if the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha is not there, then leader of the single largest opposition party will be in the committee to appoint the Chief Election Commissioner and elections commissioners.
Also read: Explained: Why SC and Centre are warring over Election Commission
Democracy intertwined with power to the people
In a concurring but separate judgement, Justice Rastogi made it clear that the grounds for the removal of Election Commissioners should be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner.
Noting that there is a lacuna in the law, the SC bench said, “Democracy is inexplicably intertwined with power to the people. Democracy facilitates the peaceful revolution in the hands of the ordinary man if held in a free and fair manner.”
“Democracy can succeed only if all stakeholders work on it to maintain the purity of the election process, so as to reflect the will of the people,” the bench said.
While reading the operative portion, Justice Joseph said that an Election Commission that does not guarantee the rule of law is against democracy.
“In its wide spectrum of powers, if exercised illegally or unconstitutionally, it has an effect on the outcomes of political parties, he said, stressing that the Election Commission has to be independent; it cannot claim to be independent and then act in an unfair manner.
“A person in a state of obligation to the state cannot have an independent frame of mind. An independent person will not be servile to those in power,” he pointed out.
Further, the bench said that Article 324 has a unique background. “Several decades have passed by. Political parties of varying hues have not introduced a law. A law cannot be perpetuation of what is existing, of the executive having the absolute say in appointments. There is a lacuna as the petitioners have pointed out. Political parties would have a reason not to seek a law, which is clear to see. A party in power will have an insatiable quest to remain in power through a servile Commission,” observed the bench.
Justice Joseph further added that, “Any process that seeks to improve the election process before this Court must be considered. Once the results are out, the matter largely becomes a fait accompli. Lincoln declared democracy to be by, for and of the people. The government should run as per the laws.”
The bench also expressed concern over the present state of affairs. “Power becomes the goal of political parties to an end. What is disturbing and the substance of the complaints of the petitioners is the sullying of the process of this gaining of power. Democracy can succeed only as all stakeholders work on it to maintain the purity of the election process so as to reflect the will of the people. With the rise in media coverage and others, the propensity of misuse of election,” said the bench.