Supreme Court refuses to stay law on appointment of election commissioners

The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to stay the 2023 Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners Act and asked the Centre to respond within six weeks to a clutch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the law, Bar and Bench reported.

A bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta heard writ petitions filed by Congress leader Jaya Thakur, the Association for Democratic Reforms and other petitioners questioned the validity of the amendments made to the Act, in particular the exclusion of the chief justice of India from the selection committee tasked with appointments to the Election Commission.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, representing one of the petitioners, highlighted the precedent set by the Supreme Court’s 2023 judgement in Anoop Baranwal Versus Union of India, according to which the appointments were to be made by the president of India on the advice of a panel comprising the prime minister, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the chief justice of India, reported Live Law.

The selection committee had been formed to shield the Election Commission from executive influence. Before this judgement, appointments to the commission were made at the sole discretion of the Centre.

By replacing the chief justice with a Cabinet minister, the new law has brought the selection of election commissioners back under the Centre’s control and given the ruling party the decisive voice in appointments to the Election Commission.

On Thursday, advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the Association for Democratic Reforms, questioned the sequence of events leading to the selection committee’s meeting on March 14 and the filing of applications seeking the stay of the Act.

“Now they have been appointed, elections are on corner…,” Justice Khanna responded. “It is a question of balance of convenience. There are no allegations against persons appointed.”

Other lawyers arguing for the petitioners also raised concerns over the law’s potential adverse impact on the fairness of the electoral process in India.

“According to me, in all seriousness, this act will put an end to democratic process,” said senior advocate Sanjay Parikh.

The bench verbally remarked to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the selection committee could have examined the names “more slowly”.

Mehta submitted that the process to appoint the new election commissioners had started in February, immediately after the Act came into force and that the process had not been expedited.

In an affidavit filed earlier, the Centre had denied the allegations that two new election commissioners – bureaucrats Gyanesh Kumar and Sukhbir Singh Sandhu – were hastily appointed as election commissioners on March 14 to preempt any orders passed by the Supreme Court in the matter, which it was scheduled to hear on March 15.

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