In a controversial move, the Modi Government has introduced a Bill removing the Chief Justice of India (CJI) from a three-member panel to select the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners. Instead of the CJI, the three-member panel, when formed, would consist of a Cabinet Minister besides the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha, and the Prime Minister, who would head it.
The Bill is expected to allow the government to have more control in the appointments of members of the poll panel, an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering national and state election processes in India.
The Supreme Court in March had ruled that a three-member panel, headed by the Prime Minister and comprising the leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha and the CJI, will select the CEC and ECs till a law is framed by Parliament on the appointment of these commissioners.
The apex court’s order was aimed at insulating the appointment of the CEC and ECs from the Executive’s interference. A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph, in a unanimous verdict, held that this norm will continue to hold good till a law on the issue is made by Parliament.
However, the BJP-led NDA government has sought to influence the process and appoint its own men on the panel, and thus influence election process favoring the ruling party and its machinery.
According to the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, a three-member selection committee headed by the Prime Minister, and comprising the LoP and a cabinet minister nominated by the PM shall select the CEC and ECs. More here
The bill was introduced amid an uproar by the opposition parties that accused the government of “diluting and overturning” an SC Constitution bench order. The BJP, however, said the government is well within its right to bring the bill.
“Read the Supreme Court judgement. It had suggested a transient method for appointment of the CEC in absence of a statutory mechanism. The government is well within its right to bring in a bill for the same,” BJP’s IT department head Amit Malviya posted on ‘X’, formerly Twitter.
The new bill will now neutralize the judiciary’s involvement in the selection process and is likely to initiate a new confrontation between the two branches of government.
This is one of many such disputes involving the Executive and Judiciary in recent years with both bodies differing in their views starting from the Collegium system to the basic structure doctrine.
Recently, the Centre passed the contentious Delhi Services bill on July 7 circumventing SC’s judgement to strip the control of civil services in the national capital from the elected government of Delhi. The apex court on May 11, had delivered a verdict that gave the Delhi government control of services in the national capital, excluding the matters relating to public order, police and land.
Opposition, critics call out government
Meanwhile, leaders from the Opposition have called out the Modi government and accused them of trying to turn the election commission into a “partisan” body.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said he has always maintained that the government will overturn any Supreme Court order that it doesn’t like and this is a dangerous situation that can impact fairness of elections.
The proposed panel will have two BJP members and one from the Congress, and therefore, whoever is selected to the poll panel will be loyal to the ruling party, Kejriwal, who is the Aam Aadmi Party’s national convener, alleged on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Congress MP and the party’s whip in Lok Sabha, Manickam Tagore, alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah want to control the EC by bringing the bill. “Modi and Shah want to control the EC as they are doing now,” Tagore wrote on X.
Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate called the Bill a “gimmick” to make the Election Commission a “complete puppet” in the hands of PM Modi. “Why does PM Modi need an election commissioner of his choice? If this arbitrariness is not unconstitutional and unfair then what is?” Shrinate wrote on X.
TMC’s Rajya Sabha MP Saket Ghokale said the Modi government “is making the Election Commission its own bunch of stooges” and called the bill a “clear step towards rigging the 2024 elections.”
Constitutional expert Gautam Bhatia wrote on X: “The bill will formalise executive control over appointments to the election commission (2:1 majority in the selection committee) – further moving towards an executive Constitution.”