Saturday, June 3, 2023

Key takeaways of Supreme Court order on appointment of Election Commissioners

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The Supreme Court on Thursday passed a landmark judgment regarding the appointment of Election Commissioners, which is set to change the whole process under which the elections are held in the country.

The Constitution Bench of Justice K.M. Joseph, Justice Ajay Rastogi, Justice Aniruddha Bose, Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice C.T. Ravikumar passed the historic verdict on a batch of petitions seeking reforms in the process related to appointment of members to the Election Commission of India (ECI).

The Apex Court ruled that Election Commissioners will now be appointed by the President of India on the advice of a Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha (or leader of the largest opposition party), and the Chief Justice of India.

The Apex Court, while observing that any process which sought to improve the election process before this Court must be considered, ruled that the practice would remain in force till a law in this regard was made by the Parliament.

Reading out the operative part of the verdict, Justice Joseph said the Commission was duty bound to act in a fair and legal manner and to abide by the provisions of the Constitution and the directions of the Court. 

It further made observations on the independence of Election Commissioners, the rise of money power and the criminalisation in politics.

It said there was a huge surge in the role of money power and criminalisation of politics. Besides, a large section of the media has abdicated its role and become partisan.

The Bench noted that a law could not be a perpetuation of what was existing, of the executive having the absolute say in appointments. 

Political parties would have a reason not to seek a law, which was clear to see, observed the top court of the country. It said a party in power would have an insatiable quest to remain in power through a servile Commission.

Stressing on the independence of the Election Commission, the Apex Court said the ECI 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 government could not have an independent frame of mind as an independent person would not be servile to those in power, added the Court.

Stating that competence was not to be bound by fear, the Bench observed that qualities of competence had to be supplemented by independence. An honest person would ordinarily unflinchingly take on the high and mighty. A common person would look up to him to ensure that democracy was preserved, it added.

The top court of the country, while noting that the ECI did not guarantee the rule of law was against democracy, said that in its wide spectrum of powers, if exercised illegally or unconstitutionally, the Commission could have an effect on the outcome of political parties.

The Bench said the ends could not justify wrong means. Democracy could succeed only when all stakeholders worked on it to maintain the purity of the election process and reflected the will of people.

It further said that any process, which sought to improve the election process before this Court, must be considered. Once results were out, the matter would largely become a fait accompli. The Apex Court quoted Lincoln, who declared democracy to be by the people, for the people and of the people. The Bench said the government should run as per the laws.

As per the Apex Court, the powers of appointment were capable of being misused and this may be writ large across the country. Stating that the fate of political parties and their candidates rested in the hands of the ECI, the Court said vitally important decisions were taken by those at the helm of its affairs.

It said democracy could only be achieved when the governing parties attempted to uphold it in letter and spirit. The ECI, which was charged with the duty and powers to hold elections for states and Parliament, was duty-bound to act in a free and fair manner, added the top court of the country.

The Bench said the hallmark of a substantial and liberal democracy must be borne in mind, as democracy was inextricably linked to the power of people. The power of the ballot was supreme, which was capable of unseating the most powerful parties, it added.

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