New Delhi: The Supreme Court has said that the Constitution has vested enormous powers on the “fragile shoulder” of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the two Election Commissioners (ECs) and stressed on the “fair and transparent mechanism” so that the “best man” is appointed as the CEC.
A five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Justice KM Joseph told Attorney General R Venkataramani, who appeared in the matter on behalf of the Centre, that it is important that through a “fairly good procedure someone of strong character is appointed” as the CEC.
Venkataramani told the bench that nobody can have any objection to it and even the government is not going to oppose the appointment of the best man, but the question is how can it be done.
“Enormous power has been vested on the fragile shoulder of three men (two ECs and the CEC). We have to find the best man for the post of CEC. The question is how do we find that best man and how to appoint that best man,” the apex court said.
The bench also comprising justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar, said that the absence of a law for the appointment of Election Commissioners has resulted in an “alarming trend”. It pointed out that Article 324 (2) mandates the framing of law for the selection and appointment of CEC and ECs but nothing had been done in the last seven decades.
“This is how the silence of the Constitution is being exploited,” the bench added. Justice Joseph remarked, “It’s a very, very disturbing trend. After TN Seshan (who was CEC for six years between 1990 and 1996), the slide began when no person has been given a full term.
What the government has been doing is that because it knows the date of birth, it ensures that anyone who is appointed as the CEC does not get his full six years… Be it the UPA government or this government, this has been a trend.”
The apex court was hearing pleas challenging the constitutionality of the present appointment process of CEC and ECs and contended that appointments were being done as per the whims and fancies of the executive. The petitions sought the creation of an independent collegium or selection committee for future appointments of CEC and two other ECs.
The petitions stated that unlike the appointments of the CBI director or Lokpal, where the leader of the Opposition and judiciary have a say, the Centre unilaterally appoints the members of the Election Commission. The apex court referred PILs to the Constitution bench on October 23, 2018.