Govt must heed to SC proposal on CEC

Govt must heed to SC proposal on CEC

The Supreme Court has made a welcome sugges­tion that the Chief Election Commissioner and other members of the Election Commission should be appointed through a procedure laid down by Parliament. The Constitution envisages that the appointments should be made on the basis of a law enacted by Parliament. But the President, who makes the appointments, has till now done so on the basis of the advice of the Cabinet whose criteria for selection are not known. Retired civil servants have been appointed to the positions till now. The Election Commission is an important constitutional body with a crucial role in a democracy as it has the power and responsibility to conduct elections for Parliament, state legislatures and other offices.

The process of selection of the members of the EC should, therefore, be fair, credible and transparent. But the matter has not received much attention till now. The Election Commission has functioned well in the past, especially in the last over two decades. The court also said that some truly outstanding officers have served the commission. They have raised its status, efficiency and acceptability. But that may not be the case in future. A government can select its favourites for the position or can try to influence the incumbents. Charges of partisanship were made against two election commissioners in the recent past. As the court observed, eligibility criteria may be laid down and a procedure evolved as in the case of the selection of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), the Director of the CBI and the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). The Law Commission has suggested in the past that the CEC and other commissioners may be appointed by the President after consultation with a panel consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. Such a procedure will enhance the commission’s credibility, acceptability and independent status. Similar procedures may be devised at the state level, too. Former CECs S Y Quraishi and Nazim Zaidi have supported such a procedure.

The government’s response that there is no need for a change in the procedure as there has not been any controversy till now is not tenable. It was also being evasive when it said that it was for Parliament to frame the necessary procedure through legislation. The government will have to take the initiative for that. The court noted that it could not direct Parliament to frame a law in this regard but had judicial options before it. The government should heed the suggestion and go in for a better selection procedure, though the details can be worked out later.
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