Situation on ground alarming, need CEC who can’t be bulldozed: Supreme Court

Situation on ground alarming, need CEC who can’t be bulldozed: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Tuesday stressed the need for a Chief Election Commissioner with the integrity and strength of character of the late TN Seshan and one who cannot be “bulldozed”.

While hearing petitions seeking reforms in the appointment of election commissioners, a five-judge bench headed by Justice KM Joseph said the Chief Justice of India (CJI) should be included in the appointment committee to ensure neutrality.

The top court noted that enormous powers have invested in the “fragile shoulder” of the CEC and the two election commissioners and it is only pertinent that someone like Seshan is selected for the job.

Also read: Seshan died now, his strict system of poll conduct died earlier

“There have been numerous CECs and TN Seshan happens once in a while. We do not want anyone to bulldoze him. Enormous power has been vested on the fragile shoulder of three men (CEC and two election commissioners). We have to find the best man for the post of CEC,” the court said.

“What is important is that we put a fairly good procedure so that apart from competence, someone of strong character is appointed as the CEC,” the top court told Attorney General R Venkataramani representing the Centre.

For the appointment of such a person, the top court said the least intrusive will be a system where the CJI is part of the appointment committee.

“We feel his very presence will be a message that no mess-up will happen. We need the best man. And there shouldn’t be any disagreement on that. Even judges have prejudices. But at least you can expect that there will be neutrality,” Justice Joseph said.

Venkataramani responded by saying that while the government will not oppose the appointment of the “best man,” the question is how it will be done.

“There is no vacuum in the Constitution. Election commissioners are presently appointed by the president on the aid and advice of the council of ministers,” he said.

The attorney general told the top court that the judiciary cannot interfere in the matters of the legislation and that the “original feature of the Constitution cannot be challenged.”

“Matters that are open for scrutiny by this court are ones that violate fundamental rights. The court can enhance the provision, but when it comes to striking an original provision of the Constitution, that is for Parliament to debate and not the court,” he said.

The bench replied by stating that while the court cannot dictate terms to Parliament, it is merely pushing for a collegium-like system for appointments to constitutional bodies like the Election Commission – a demand that is being made since the 1990s and has been supported by politicians including BJP veteran LK Advani.

Also read: Seshan’s bold initiatives led India’s game-changing electoral reforms

“The situation on the ground is alarming. We know that there will be opposition form the ruling party to not allow us to go past the present system,” the top court said.

The top court also pointed to the Centre’s repeated move of cutting down on tenures of CECs. It said that no CEC since 2004 has completed a six-year tenure as mandated under The Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Conditions Of Service) Act, 1991. The UPA government appointed six CECs during its 10-year rule while the NDA has appointed eight in its eight years in power.

“The government is giving such a truncated tenure to the ECs and CECs that they are doing its bidding,” the apex court observed.

Also read: Election Commission seeks power to withdraw registration of political parties

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