In a significant development, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party on Tuesday withdrew their petitions for the removal of Election Commissioner Navin Chawla following Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalawami's stand that he has the power to initiate action against an Election Commissioner on the basis of a petition to him, a stand strongly opposed by the Centre.
The Supreme Court allowed withdrawal of the petition and made it clear to the Centre that at this stage it was not adjudicating on the issue whether the CEC has the power or not to act on his own in the issue.
The dramatic development came after the CEC's affidavit filed on Monday in which he had said that the powers vested in him under the Constitution for removal of an Election Commissioner can be exercised if he either receives some information as CEC or on the basis of any formal representation or petition filed before him by a political party or a body or a person.
He had also justified former CEC BB Tandon's stand he could not act on the petition for removal of Chawla filed by NDA MPs because it was addressed to the President.
Strongly opposing the CEC's stand, Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam told a bench comprising Justice Ashok Bhan and Justice VS Sirpurkar "the Union of India contests the stand taken by the CEC in his affidavit filed before court and reiterates that it is the executive government alone which is empowered to initiate proceedings against the Election Commissioner."
"This point -- whether he (CEC) has the power or not -- is not an issue before us and we are not going to adjudicate on the matter," the bench said when the ASG pleaded that he be allowed to file additional documents on the matter.
Subramanian further contended that all three members of the Election Commission were on par with each other and even their salaries were made equal by the Parliament.
"Right from Gill, Lyngdoh, Krishnamurthy, Tandon that position has been going on," the ASG said.
"This is a peculiar case where the CEC has filed an affidavit. The petitioners, after withdrawing their petitions, can file a fresh representation before CEC," the ASG said while pleading that the government's stand should be heard on this important issue.
Refusing to entertain government's contention the Bench said, "we are not deciding the issue whether CEC has the power or not. We can not stop any body from filing the representation before CEC but you can challenge the decisions taken by CEC on the representation.
"If the CEC commits mistake then you can come to the court. We would then decide the matter," the Bench said to the government while allowing the petitioners to withdraw their petition.
Stating that the executive government is the "only" authority to initiate proceedings against the Election Commissioner, Subramanian contended that the affidavit of CEC was silent on the role of the government.
Senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh had earlier challenged the appointment of Navin Chawla as Election Commissioner.
Singh in his petition had sought Chawla's removal on the ground that he would not be able to discharge his duties impartially in view of several allegations of impropriety levelled against him.