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Sat. Nov 26th, 2022
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NEW DELHI: Highlighting that chief election commissioners have not been given long tenures in the post-Seshan era, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it was a very disturbing trend since it destroyed the independence of the poll panel with its head unable to implement his vision and bring electoral reforms.
Presenting statistics on tenures of CECs since the formation of the poll panel, Justice K M Joseph, who is heading a five-judge constitution bench hearing a plea on insulating the office of CEC/ECs from political and executive interference, said that all governments at the Centre carried out selection and appointments in such a way that none of the CECs got a long tenure.
In the first 46 years after adopting the Constitution (from 1950 to 1996), only 10 CECs were appointed but in the last 26 years after Seshan —who was the last person to get a tenure of six years, themaximum period allowed — 15 had been appointed.
The bench, also comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar, said “the statistics are staring at our face and we have to factor them in while deciding the issue”. “It is a disturbing trend of picking and appointing a person who will never get a six-year tenure and will have a truncated period of service. Independence (of the poll panel) is completely destroyed and the CEC will never be able to do what he wants to do. The situation is thesame whether it is a UPA or an NDA government,” the bench observed.
It said that six CECs were appointed between 2004 and 2015 and eight CECs had been appointed by the present government in the last seven years. The court also pointed out that the process of selection and appointment for poll panels in many countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, were more transparent and had laws to ensure transparency.
Challenging the present system, the petitioner had alleged that the practice was incompatible with Article 324(2) and was manifestly arbitrary. “Democracy is a facet of the basic structure of the Constitution, and in order to ensure free and fair elections and to maintain healthy democracy in our country, the Election Commission should be insulated from political and or executive interference. . . However, the appointment of members of the Election Commission on the whims and fancies of the executive violates the very foundation on which it was created, thus making the commission a branch of the executive,” the petition said.
The Law Commission had recommended a change in the existing procedure and said in its 2015 report that the appointment of all the election commissioners, including the CEC, should be made by the President in consultation with a three-member collegium or selection committee consisting of the PM, the leader of the opposition of the Lok Sabha (or the leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha) and the CJI.

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