The court mentioned “one Election Commissioner opting out of the commission,” but did not name anyone; and stated that “every administration appoints a yes man.”
New Delhi, India – Concerning the independence of India’s top election body, the Supreme Court issued a pointed “hypothesis” to the central government today: “Do you think the Election Commissioner… if he’s asked to take on none less than the Prime Minister — just as an example — and he doesn’t come around to doing it: Will it not be a case of complete breakdown of the system?”
It stated that the Election Commission is “suppose to be entirely isolate,” and that the government had mentioned nominating a “man of character.” “Character is made up of several components… one specific trait required is independence,” it said.
It went on to say that “one of the Election Commissioners, in fact, resigned.” The court did not take names, instead saying that the appointment procedure needed “a wider body” than just the union cabinet to make decisions on names. “Change is desperately need.”
The poll body currently comprises one chief and two additional commissioners drawn from the civil service.
Arun Goel’s most recent appointment
Later, the court requested that the Centre submit the documentation pertaining to the appointment of Election Commissioner Arun Goel in order to investigate any “hanky panky,” as he had only recently been granted voluntary retirement from service. Prashant Bhushan, arguing for one of the petitioners, urged the court to look into it further.
In requesting the file, the court rejected the government’s argument that because the court is dealing with the broader issue of appointment processes, it cannot look at individual cases. The bench state that it began hearing the case last Thursday and that Mr Goel’s appointment was made after that, on November 19; thus, it wants to know what prompted the action.
The five-judge Constitution bench, presided over by Justice KM Joseph, has been considering petitions calling for changes to the method of appointing election commissioners. It has stated that “every administration picks a yes man” as the head of the poll body, “regardless of the party [in power].”
The court has previously stated that Article 324 of the Constitution, which addresses the appointment of election commissioners, does not specify the mechanism for doing so. This Article mentions Parliament passing legislation to establish the procedure, although that hasn’t happened in the last 72 years.
The government claims that no one can ‘go rogue.’
“Strange instances cannot be grounds for the court to intervene,” the government’s lawyer argued. Our goal is to maintain the position.”
“First, a list of all senior bureaucrats is compile. “And then the list is transmit to the Law Ministry, which then forwards it to the Prime Minister,” the lawyer continued, adding, “We need to determine how far the court can become involved in this process.” The current system is functioning properly, and there is no reason for the court to intervene in this matter.”
The court emphasized that it was not stating the system was flawed. “A clear mechanism should be in place,” it stated.
The court also rejected the Centre’s claim that appointments are “always based on seniority” and that tenure is “usually 5 years.”
When the court was ask why the pool of candidates is so small, “”Only civil officials,” the government responded, “that’s the convention.” How can we not do so? Can we conduct a national candidate poll? It’s not possible.”
The government lawyer continue, “The court cannot intervene in the system because we cannot show how the appointment was made in every single case. You must include examples of when anything went wrong. Interference from the court is not require base solely on likelihood, apprehension, or anxiety.”
The government also claimed, citing the system’s sheer size, that “the entire mechanism does not permit that somebody could go rogue.”
‘Someone like TN Seshan,’ he says.
The court, which declare yesterday that a Chief Election Commissioner like TN Seshan, known for vigorous election reforms from 1990 to 1996, should be appoint, has pressing on a “system” for poll body appointments. The administration has invoked a 1991 legislation and previous appointment conventions to nominate an officer to the President, who ultimately chooses one.
The Centre has fiercely opposed calls for a collegium-style system for selecting election commissioners, such as senior-most judges recommending judges. According to the government, any such attempt would amount to changing the Constitution.
However, the court has said that no CEC has served a full six-year term since 2004. There were six CECs during the UPA’s 10-year tenure, and eight during the NDA’s eight-year rule. “The government is giving the ECs and CECs such a shortened tenure that they are doing its bidding,” the court stated.