Bill on EC appointments will override Supreme Court verdict: Opposition
The bill seeks to replace the CJI with a cabinet minister as one of the three members of the selection panel to choose the CEC and election commissioners.
The Opposition on Thursday attacked the Union government for introducing a bill in the Rajya Sabha that seeks to exclude the chief justice of India (CJI) from a three-member selection committee that picks the election commissioners and chief election commissioner, accusing the Centre of “diluting and overturning” an order by the Supreme Court’s Constitution bench.
The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023 seeks to replace the CJI with a cabinet minister as one of the three members of the selection panel to choose the CEC and election commissioners — the other two being the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha.
The introduction of the bill, especially the deletion of CJI from the panel, sparked a fresh standoff between the government and the opposition.
“Introduction of this bill will override the Supreme Court Constitution Bench’s judgment regarding the appointment of the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners,” Communist Party of India (Marxist) lawmaker John Brittas, who had given a notice against the introduction of the bill, told reporters outside Parliament.
Brittas said Clause 7 of the bill that prescribes the selection committee composition “is in stark contradiction to the dictum laid down by the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the judgment dated March 2, 2023 in writ petition (Civil) No. 104 of 2015 (Anoop Baranwal Vs Union of India) and other connected writ petitions, wherein Supreme Court emphatically declared that the appointment of the CEC and the ECs shall be made on the recommendations made by a three-member committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition of the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.”
The CPI(M) leader further said that the spirit of the apex court verdict was to maintain the Election Commission as an independent mechanism as it deals with the democratic process of the country. “So, the independence in the appointment process of CEC and other election commissioners has to be preserved as sacrosanct for ensuring the conduct of free and fair elections in the country. Any attempt to dilute its independence is to be nipped in the bud,” he added.
The bill will not come up for discussion and passage in the Monsoon session of Parliament that winds up Friday.
Attacking the Centre for introducing the bill amid a din, a Trinamool Congress lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government “knew it does not have the numbers to pass the bill, so they tried to bulldoze its introduction.”
The Congress also put its opposition on record. Speaking outside Parliament, Congress Rajya Sabha member Randeep Surjewala said, “The bill is an assault on the Constitution, the judiciary and people’s rights to elect their own government in a fair and impartial manner...”
He also made a reference to the Anoop Baranwal vs Union of India case, saying in para 165 of the judgment, the top court had said, “the election commissioners including the CEC blessed with nearly infinite powers and who are to abide by the fundamental rights must be chosen not by the Executive exclusively and particularly without any objective yardstick.”
The Congress leader said the proposed committee does not constitute a check and balance and it is clear beyond all doubt that the appointments committee is an “empty formality” since not a single cabinet minister would vote against the prime minister, who nominated him or her.
“...The ruling regime has two nominees as opposed to one from the legislative opposition, effectively rendering their presence and vote redundant. This is exactly the executive control that the Supreme Court has warned against,” he added.
Manoj Jha of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) said the composition of the selection committee does not bode well for the poll panel’s independence.
“I am shocked but not surprised at the manner in which the present dispensation will decimate everything that we thought was according to constitutional propriety or morality,” he said outside of Parliament.
The new composition shows that the quorum will weigh in favour of the government, Jha said. “With these three members, we know which direction it is going to go in... Now onwards, there is no doubt, we cannot even think of free and fair elections and Article 324 is virtually redundant. If you look at the past record of the way how the EC has handled complaints against the ruling party, now onwards when they will have the patronage, they believe they have been chosen by a regime...even the election commission shall become more than what the word sham describes,” he added.
Article 324 vests the superintendence, direction and control of elections in an Election Commission.
As per the bill circulated by the government, the selection will be carried out by a three-member panel comprising the prime minister, who will be the chairman, and two members — the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha or the leader of the largest party in the House, and a cabinet minister to be nominated by the PM.
The government pointed out that it was the Supreme Court that ruled in March that appointments to the poll panel should be made on the advice of a committee comprising the PM, LoP in the Lok Sabha and the CJI until Parliament framed a law on the selection process.
“Just as the court has said, the government has moved ahead to frame the laws...what is the opposition protesting against,” said a senior government functionary, requesting anonymity.
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