Under a controversial bill tabled by the Union Government on Thursday, Chief Justice of India (CJI) would no longer be an active member of a three person committee to select the chief electoral officer and election commissioner. When it is established, the three-person panel would be headed by the Prime Minister and comprise the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha as well as a Cabinet Minister.
In the midst of a commotion over protests in Manipur, Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal tabled the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, in the Rajya Sabha. The Supreme Court had decided in March that the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha, and the CJI should make up the selection panel. According to the court, until a law is enacted by Parliament, that order shall remain in force. Prior to this SC decision, the President had designated election commissioners and Central Election Commissioners in accordance with government recommendations.
In line with the statement and objectives provided for by this bill, if there is no LoP in Parliament’s Lower House, the leader of the largest Opposition Party would be considered a LoP. In the initial stage, an inventory shall be drawn up of five persons to be considered by the selection committee for appointment as Central Electoral Committee and Election Commissioners. The Opposition took advantage of this opportunity to accuse the government by diluting the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
K.C. Venugopal, the Congress’s General Secretary for Organizational Affairs, attacked the government over this bill and called it a blatant attempt to transform the poll commission into an absolute puppet in the Prime Minister’s hands. “What’s the current ruling of the Supreme Court that calls for a neutral panel ? What’s the Prime Minister thinking that an election commissioner who isn’t impartial should be appointed? The bill is unconstitutional, arbitrary and unfair, we are going to oppose it in every forum”, said Venugopal on ‘X’, formerly Twitter.
In an article on X, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said that the Modi government was trying to make the judiciary in India as obedient as the extreme right-wing government in Israel. The Constitution of India lays down the mandate for an impartial election commission, to conduct elections freely and fairly. This move has destroyed the integrity of the European Court of Justice.