Row over appointment of EC: Supreme Court agrees to hear plea of NGO on March 15 [13.3.2024]

The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear on March 15 a plea of an NGO challenging the exclusion of the Chief Justice of India from a panel meant for selecting the CEC and election commissioners on the grounds that the poll panel should be insulated from political and executive interference to maintain a healthy democracy.

A bench headed by Justice Sanjiv Khanna took note of the submissions of lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms, seeking urgent listing of the plea and said it will be listed on Friday.

I just got the message from the CJI that it will be listed on Friday, Justice Khanna said.

The NGO challenges the validity and seeks a stay on the operation of Section 7 of the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners Act, 2023 which excludes the CJI from the panel meant to select the CEC and ECs.

Under the new law, the selection panel includes the prime minister as the chairperson and the leader of opposition and a union minister nominated by the PM are the two members of it.

The NGO has moved the top court after Election Commissioner Arun Goel put in his papers recently. Direct the Union of India to appoint the vacant positions of Election Commissioners till the pendency of the writ petition, in accordance with the Selection Committee laid down by this Hon'ble Court in Anoop Baranwal v. Union of India (Supra) in 2023.

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, the plea, filed in the disposed of PIL, said.

A five-judge Constitution bench, on March 2, 2023, had ruled that the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and ECs will be done by the President on the recommendation of a committee, comprising the prime minister, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the CJI, to maintain the "purity" of the electoral process.

The fresh plea alleged that the verdict, in relation to the selection panel, was overruled by the Centre without removing the basis of the judgement.

The fresh plea, filed through lawyer Bhushan, said the March 2, 2023 judgement had held that leaving appointment of the members of ECs and CEC in the hands of the executive would be seriously detrimental to the health of our democracy and conduct of free and fair election.

That thereafter, in December 2023 Parliament in the absence of the opposition as well as substantive debate and discussion passed the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023. This law came into effect from 2nd January 2024, it said.

It is pertinent to mention that the Chief Justice of India has been removed and cabinet minister (to be nominated by the prime minister) has been added thereby restoring the previous law i.e. selection by executive thereby undermining the rule of law and threatening democracy, it said.

The composition of the selection committee under the new law amounted to excessive interference of the executive in the appointment of the ECs and CEC and is detrimental to the independence of the poll panel, it said.

Recently, another plea has been filed by Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Jaya Thakur seeking to restrain the Centre from appointing new election commissioners as per a 2023 law. The Congress leader has also challenged the provisions of the 2023 law.

14 Mar 2024