Appointments to the Election Commission: The Supreme Court’s Landmark Decision

The Supreme Court of India (SC) continues to be the most powerful political power centre in the country, with almost every political issue being heard by the Court. The main relief sought in Anoop Baranwal v. Union of India, which was granted by the Court on Thursday, was a neutral body for the selection of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other Election Commissioners. The decision resurrects the era of judicial activism.

Anoop Baranwal v. Union of India: A Timeline

  • PIL: The current election commissioner appointment system is unconstitutional: Anoop Baranwal filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in January 2015, alleging that the current system for appointing members of the Election Commission of India (ECI) is unconstitutional. Currently, the Executive has the authority to make appointments.
  • PIL seeks independent system: The PIL asks the Court to order the establishment of an independent, Collegium-style system for ECI appointments.

Article 324:

  • Article 324 states that while the President appoints the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, this is subject to parliamentary approval (if such law exists).
  • While this provision requires Parliament to draught a relevant law, it has not done so to date. In the absence of such legislation, the President has made appointments based on the Prime Minister’s recommendations.
  • The Union government has defended the current appointment mechanism, citing the integrity of all previous Chief Commissioners.
  • pleaded with the court not to intervene: It has asked the Court not to intervene, claiming that the matter is within the purview of the executive branch.
  • Recent decision: The Supreme Court ruled that until Parliament passes legislation on the subject, a committee comprised of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Chief Justice of India will advise the President on appointments to the Election Commission of India.

What exactly are the problems with the Election Commission?

  • The sticking point: Petitioners contended that, under Article 324(2), CEC and EC appointments must be based on legislation, but no legislation was enacted. Taking advantage of this situation, the Centre selects the CEC and ECs, who are frequently seen to act in accordance with those in power and those who select them. As a result, the petitioners asked for an independent body to make appointments.
  • Immunity for CEC and EC Susceptibility: Article 324(5) grants immunity to CEC but not to other ECs. CEC can only be removed in the same way that a Supreme Court justice can. Other ECs may be more vulnerable to the executive due to a lack of job security.
  • The autonomy of CEC and EC is linked to their selection process. Executive control undermines fair elections in an electoral autocracy.

What is the difference between judicial activism and judicial overreach?

  • Judicial Review: The process by which a court examines the constitutionality of a statute or the application of a statute and rules either for or against it.
  • Judicial Activism: The belief that courts make political rather than legal decisions in order to advance a particular agenda, rather than strictly reviewing the legality of a law under the letter of the law and prior precedent. It refers to the process by which the judiciary steps into the shoes of the legislature and creates new rules and regulations that the legislature should have done sooner.
  • Judicial Overreach: This is an extreme form of judicial activism in which the judiciary makes arbitrary, unreasonable, and frequent interventions into the domain of the legislature, often with the intent of disrupting the balance of powers between the executive, legislature, and judiciary.

Supreme court’s Judgement: A great leap

  • A giant step towards a more sustainable democracy: An independent committee for selecting the CEC, comprised of the prime minister, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha or the leader of the largest party in opposition, and the Chief Justice of India, is a significant step towards a sustainable democracy.
  • Complete autonomy: The far-reaching decision also means that the Election Commission will have an independent secretariat, rule-making authority, an independent budget, and equal impeachment protection.
  • Bench remarks: Democracy can only succeed if all stakeholders work together to keep the election process pure so that it reflects the will of the people.

@the end

The recent Supreme Court decision on commission selection is not a panacea for electoral democracy. However, it corrects an unfair selection method and significantly improves the process’s legitimacy.

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