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Bring law for appointment of election commissioners, or we’ll be forced to step in: SC to govt

The court was hearing a public interest litigation by one Anoop Paranwal through lawyer Prashant Bhushan asking for a fair and transparent procedure for EC appointments.

india Updated: Jul 05, 2017 21:31 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Supreme Court,Law panel appointments,CEC
Centre told SC it was for Parliament to frame a law.(Reuters File Photo)

The Supreme Court warned the central government on Wednesday it must write a law on the appointment of election commissioners or face an intervention by the judiciary.

In what could be a fresh flashpoint between the judiciary and executive, the apex court has been pushing the government to make the appointment of top officials in poll panels more transparent and consensual. Presently, the government appoints election commissioners without consulting other political parties.

The court’s tough talk came a day after the government named Achal Kumar Joti as the next chief election commissioner (CEC) succeeding Nasim Zaidi for a period of six months.

“There is an express expectation in the constitution to frame a law to appoint an election commissioner because he has to supervise elections. He should be a neutral person between political parties. Appointment has to be in a transparent manner,” a bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar said.

The court said Parliament was in “breach” of its duty, and under such circumstances the court could step in to fill the gap. Norms similar to the ones on appointing a CBI director are required to meet the constitutional mandate, the court said.

This is the latest instance of the courts and government differing over issues that the latter considers to be under the ambit of the executive and the legislature.

“Article 324 of the Constitution provided that the appointments of CEC and the election commissioners be made as per the enabling law. Even the President – who makes the appointments – is subject to the law. But, if there is no law then can’t the court step in to see that appointment is made in a transparent manner?” the bench, also comprising Justice DY Chandrachud said. It is hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by a private citizen.

The Centre’s counsel, solicitor general Ranjit Kumar, opposed the court’s intervention and denied there was a gap. “It was for the Parliament to frame a law. Probably it feels there is no requirement for a law,” he replied.

In an attempt to dissuade the court from entertaining the petition, the solicitor explained the procedure followed to appoint poll supervisors. “At present the Prime Minister with the aid and advice of the council of ministers makes the appointment. It is done as per the transaction of business rules.”

The court, however, took a different view. “The rules only assign responsibility to start the process but are silent on what should be the qualification of a candidate. No criterion to make the appointment is spelt out,” it told Kumar.

“We acknowledge that till now all (election commissioners) have been outstanding, fair and neutral. There is no harm in formalising the rules,” said the court, which took a strong exception to the fact that a deputy secretary-level officer had filed the government affidavit.

The court adjourned the matter for now and listed it for further will hear at length after two months.

First Published: Jul 05, 2017 12:34 IST