ECI Appointments Day #1: Adv. Prashant Bhushan Suggests Neutral Committee for AppointmentsElection Commission Appointments
A 5-Judge Constitution Bench led by Justice K.M. Joseph heard proposals for changing the method of appointment of Election Commission of India (ECI) members.
Article 324 of the Constitution states that the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the remaining Election Commissioners (EC) shall be appointed by the President, subject to the laws made by Parliament. However, since the Constitution of India came into force in 1950, no law has been passed by Parliament for the appointment of members of the Election Commission of India (ECI). Members of the ECI are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister, leaving the entire process in the hands of the Union Executive.
In January 2015, Mr. Anoop Baranwal filed a PIL alleging that the current system of appointment of ECI members is unconstitutional. The petition argues that the Constitution subjects the Parliament with the expectation that it will frame a law to govern ECI appointments, but it has not fulfilled the obligation. The Union claims that all the past ECI members have had an ‘honest record’ indicating that the current system is sound.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan introduced the petition before the Court. The Constitution of India does not talk about how members of the Election Commission are appointed. It only states that members of the ECI will be appointed by the President and the process shall be subject to law made by Parliament. However, Parliament did not make a law to govern the process in the last 70 years. The current system gives a high degree of influence on ECI appointments to the Union Executive.
Mr. Bhushan addressed an alternate system suggested by the Law Commission of India—that a body comprising the Prime Minister (PM), Leader of Opposition (LOO) and the Chief Justice of India (CJI) to oversee ECI appointments. However, even in this system, the PM and the LOO would still be connected with political parties. ‘Selection should be by a body which is totally neutral’, Mr. Bhushan added, before suggesting a body akin to the SC Collegium. This body would be a neutral committee comprising three senior judges, the Chief Election Commissioner, and the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission to make ECI appointments.
Sr. Adv. Gopal Shankarnarayan supported the need for the SC’s intervention by claiming that out of the judiciary, the ECI, and the media, only the ECI was not protected from governmental interference. Due to the importance of the ECI to democracy, this situation must be rectified. Mr. Shankarnarayan proposed a 3-member committee comprising the CJI, the LOO, and the PM. He also proposed modifying the process for the removal of ECs to make it the same as for a CEC.
Attorney General R. Venkataramani will argue for the Union on November 22nd, 2022.