Govt employees can’t head state poll bodies: SC

New Delhi/Panaji: The Supreme Court on Friday directed that any person employed with the central or state governments should not be appointed as election commissioner “across the length and breadth of the country”, in a ruling that aimed at ensuring the independence of poll panels
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Published on Mar 12, 2021 11:49 PM IST
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ByUtkarsh Anand and Gerard de Souza

New Delhi/Panaji: The Supreme Court on Friday directed that any person employed with the central or state governments should not be appointed as election commissioner “across the length and breadth of the country”, in a ruling that aimed at ensuring the independence of poll panels.

“The independence of the election commission cannot be compromised in a democracy. Entrusting additional charge of state election commissioner to a government official is a mockery of the Constitution,” held the bench of justices Rohinton F Nariman and BR Gavai.

It added that the election commissioners have to be “independent persons” and that nobody, who has been employed or holds an office of profit under the central or any state government, should be appointed as election commissioners.

The court issued the direction exercising its powers under Articles 142 and 144 of the Constitution. Under Article 142, the apex court is empowered to issue directives to do “complete justice” whereas Article 144 obligates all authorities to act in aid of the Supreme Court.

The judgment came as the top court censured the Goa government for appointing its law secretary as the state election commissioner for conducting municipal council elections in the state. Law secretary Choka Ram Garg was given additional charge as state election commissioner to hold municipal elections.

Calling this a “disturbing feature”, the bench ordered that Garg will immediately cease to hold the post of the state election commissioner and directed that henceforth, no such person shall be appointed as election commissioner by the Centre or state governments.

The top court also dismissed the appeal by the Goa government against the order of the high court, which had cancelled elections to five municipalities in the state for not reserving wards for women as per the law. It upheld the order of the high court that fresh notifications ought to be issued after reserving seats for women and for candidates under other reserved categories as the law.

The Opposition has claimed a moral victory calling the Supreme Court judgement “a complete slap and indictment of the government led by [chief minister] Pramod Sawant in Goa”.

Speaking to reporters, Congress leader and advocate Carlos Alvares Ferreira, who represented some of the original petitioners before the high court, said: “The SC has straightforward dismissed the appeals filed by the state government. The SC has found that there was clear machination done by the SC in trying to manipulate the entire constitutional machinery and override constitutional provisions.”

Leader of Goa Forward Party Vijai Sardesai tweeted: “The Highest Court of the land has crushed @DrPramodPSawant’s blatant attempt to violate our constitution and derail democracy; He’s brought disgrace not only to Goa but also to his own leader @narendramodi who had bowed before the Constitution before taking office in 2019.”

The case had come up before the high court after Fouzia Imtiaz Shaikh and some other candidates challenged the notifications issued by the Director of Municipal Administration (DMA), in charge of notifying which seats in municipal councils were to be reserved for candidates like women, STs, SCs and OBCs.

The DMA had “rounded off” the number of seats to be reserved for women to the lower integer that emerged when the total number of seats was sought to be divided into three. For example, in the Mapusa Municipal Council of the 20 seats only six were reserved for women (30%) when the constitution mandated that “no less than” 33% be reserved for women which meant that at least seven seats should have been reserved. This was also done some other municipal councils, prompting the high court to nix the poll schedule for five councils.

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Sunday, November 28, 2021