Updated: Wed, 23 Nov 2022 10:28 AM IST
POINTING out the ground situation, the Supreme Court on Tuesday stated that the country needs a Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) with a strong character like the late TN Seshan who does not allow himself to be bulldozed. The apex court said the Constitution has vested enormous powers on the "fragile shoulder" of the CEC and the two Election Commissioners (ECs).
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Hearing a petition seeking reforms in the system of appointing election commissioners, a five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Justice K M Joseph, said its endeavour is to put a system in place so that the "best man" is selected as the CEC.
T N Seshan served as a former cabinet secretary to the Union government before being appointed election commissioner in December 1990, with a term lasting until December 1996. He passed away on November 10, 2019.
"There have been numerous CECs and T N Seshan happens once in a while. We do not want anyone to bulldoze him. 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 bench, also comprising justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar, said, PTI quoted.
"What is important is that we put a fairly good procedure so that apart from competence, someone of strong character is appointed as the CEC, the court told Attorney General R Venkataramani, who appeared in the matter on behalf of the Centre.
Venkataramani, the government's counsel said that the government is not going to oppose the appointment of the best man but the question is how can it be done. "There is no vacuum in the Constitution. Election commissioners are presently appointed by the president on the aid and advice of the council of ministers,” he said.
Since 1990, voices have been raised from various quarters including veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L K Advani, who called for a collegium-like system for constitutional bodies, including election commissioners, the bench said.
"Democracy is a basic structure of the Constitution. There is no debate to that. We also cannot tell Parliament to do something and we will not do that. We just want to do something to the issue that has been raised since 1990. The situation on the ground is alarming. We know that there will be opposition from the ruling party to not allow us go past the present system," the bench said.
The top court termed the exploitation of the "silence of the Constitution" and the absence of a law governing the appointments of ECs and CECs a "disturbing trend".
Since 2004, no CEC has completed the six-year tenure and during the 10-year rule of the UPA government, there were six CECs and in the eight years of the NDA government, there have been eight CECs, the court pointed out.
On November 17, the Center vigorously opposed a series of petitions seeking a collegium-like system for the selection of CECs and ECs, contending that any such attempt will amount to amending the Constitution.