INDIA. Mumbai: The Supreme Court (SC) calls for the formation of a committee to designate election commissioners.
The Chief Justice of India, the Leader of the Opposition (or the leader of single largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha) and the Prime Minister shall serve on the committee that recommends candidates for Election Commission of India (ECI), according to a ruling issued by the Supreme Court on Thursday.
In response to the petition (No. C-104/2015) filed by Anoop Baranwal and other petitions, a Constitution bench comprising Justices K M Joseph, Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy, and C T Ravikumar said that the committee would be set up until the central government came up with a law on appointments.
Baranwal had filed a petition on January 13, 2015, praying for the issue of mandamus commanding the respondent Union Government to make law for ensuring a fair, just, and transparent process of selection by constituting a neutral and independent collegium or selection committee to recommend names for the appointment of members of the Election Commission.
The matter was referred to the constitutional bench for an authoritative pronouncement on January 23, 2018. The Supreme Court then reserved its decision on November 24, last year.
The petitioners had challenged the current system of appointing ECI members on the grounds that the executive has the ability to make nominations, which is a breach of Article 324(2) of the Indian Constitution.
The said provision read as follows, “The EC shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix and appoint, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf by Parliament.”
In the decision on Thursday, Justice Joseph remarked that there has been a significant increase in the role of money power and the criminalization of politics, and that a big segment of the media has abdicated its job and become partisan.
The SC constitutional bench observed that “an election commission that does not guarantee 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.”
SC further added that the EC must be independent; it cannot claim independence and yet behave unfairly. The court stated that a person in a state of obligation to the state cannot think for himself. An independent person will not be subservient to those in power.
The court further stated that the independence of the Election Commission has been compromised since the political parties in power at the centre pressure Chief Election Commissioners to comply with their demands in order to maintain their hold on power.
It also added that citizens’ right to vote is assured by Article 326 of the Constitution, which cannot be overridden by Parliament’s supplemental legislative authority.
The bench questioned Attorney General (AG) for India R Venkataramani about the rationality of the current practise of selecting officials who are close to retiring during the course of the hearing.
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