Supreme Court's Ruling on Appointment of Chief Election Commissioner

The March 2023 Supreme Court verdict on the appointment of Chief Election Commissioners (CEC) and Election Commissioners (EC) has brought a significant change to the process of appointing election commissioners. This is a very important topic for the IAS exam polity and governance segment. Read on to know more about this development.

Supreme Court Verdict on ECI Appointments

  • Two corollary issues that were examined by the Court are whether the process of removal of the two Election Commissioners must be the same as the CEC, and regarding the funding of the Election Commission
    • As per the current process, the Law Minister suggests a pool of suitable candidates to the Prime Minister for consideration, and the President of India makes the appointment on the advice of the Prime Minister of India.
  • A public interest litigation was filed in 2015 challenging the constitutional validity of the Centre appointing ECs. 
  • In 2018, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court referred the case to a larger bench as it required a close examination of Article 324 of the Indian Constitution. 

What was the court’s basis to arrive at the verdict?

  • The Court’s verdict was based on a reading of the debates of the Constituent Assembly and an interpretation of similar provisions in the Constitution. 
  • The Court found that a “golden thread runs through” the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly debates on the provision, and the deliberate addition of the words “subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf by Parliament” indicates that Parliament was intended to step in and provide norms governing the appointment of the CEC and ECs. 
  • The verdict states that the appointment of the CEC and ECs shall be made by the President on the advice of a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition of the Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India
  • It also made clear that in case there is no leader of the Opposition, the leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha in terms of numerical strength will be assumed as a member of the committee.
  • However, this will be subject to any law to be made by Parliament.

What was the government’s stand?

  • The government has asked the court to exhibit judicial restraint.
  • It argued that “in the absence of such a law, the President has the Constitutional power”, while the court in its ruling discusses at length its intention to “maintain a delicate balance” on the separation of powers
  • The ruling cites past instances of the court stepping in to fill a gap in the law, including the Vishaka guidelines to curb sexual harassment at the workplace and the interpretation of the process of appointment of judges.

What are the other conclusions drawn by the court?

  • The Court made a ruling that the process of removal of Election Commissioners cannot be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner. 
    • According to the Constitution, the Chief Election Commissioner can be removed through a process similar to a judge, with a majority in both houses of Parliament on grounds of proven incapacity or misbehaviour.
  • Although there may be equality between the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners in various matters dealt with under the Act, Article 324 is inoperable without the Chief Election Commissioner, the Court explained.
  • The ruling appealed to the government to urgently provide for a permanent Secretariat and to ensure that the expenditure is charged to the Consolidated Fund of India. It is up to the Union of India to seriously consider making the necessary changes, the ruling stated.

Supreme Court’s Ruling on Appointment of Chief Election Commissioner:- Download PDF Here

Related Links
Judicial Activism Subordinate Judiciary
Judicial Overreach Indian Judicial Doctrines
Indian Judiciary UPSC 2023 Calendar

 

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