ECI Appoinments: Judgment PronouncementElection Commission Appointments
Judges: K.M. Joseph J, Ajay Rastogi J, Aniruddha Bose J, Hrishikesh Roy J, C.T. Ravikumar J
Today, a 5-Judge Constitution Bench led by Justice K.M. Joseph modified the process for appointing members of the Election Commission of India (ECI) in order to make it more secure and independent. The Bench held that a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India will advise the President on ECI appointments.
In January 2015, Mr. Anoop Baranwal filed a PIL challenging the system for appointing members of the ECI. Article 324 of the Constitution of India empowers the President of India to appoint Election Commissioners (EC) and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) until Parliament enacts a law to govern ECI appointments.
However, Parliament has not enacted a law in over 70 years since the Constitution came into force in 1950. Mr. Baranwal claimed that, over time, the independence of the ECI has been degraded. Despite being charged with ensuring accountability of political parties, the ruling party controls who enters the ranks of the ECI.
The case was heard by a Constitution Bench led by Justice K.M. Joseph in November 2022. The petitioners claimed that the system of appointment was unconstitutional as it violates the rights to equality and free & fair elections. The Union government responded stating there was no evidence of bias or that the process had been abused in any way, so the SC could not interfere.
Bench Creates Committee for Appointment of ECI Members
The Bench directed the creation of a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India. The President of India will appoint Election Commissioners (ECs) and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) based on the advice of this committee. The committee will function until Parliament enacts a law to govern the appointment process.
Justice Ajay Rastogi, in a separate concurring opinion, made some additional suggestions. Article 324(5) states that a CEC can only be removed on the same manner as a Supreme Court Judge. In order to ‘insulate’ the ECI and ensure its independence, he suggested that the protection afforded to the CEC under the Constitution should be extended to the ECs as well. Article 124(4) of the Constitution provides a stringent process of impeachment for SC Judges. It states that an SC Judge can only be removed if two-thirds of both houses of Parliament vote in favor and the President passes an order for removal.