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Need a CEC who can even take action against prime minister, says SC

SC is hearing a batch of petitions seeking collegium-like system for CEC appointment
Need a CEC who can even take action against prime minister, says SC
Need a CEC who can even take action against prime minister, says SC

ITDC INDIA EPRESS/ ITDC NEWS Underlining the importance of having a Chief Election Commissioner who is "independent and a man of character", the Supreme Court Wednesday wondered will it not be a case of "complete breakdown of system" if the CEC does not act against the prime minister in case there are allegations against him.

The top court's remark came after the Centre claimed the present system of appointment of Election Commissioners and the Chief Election Commissioner on the basis of seniority has been doing fairly well.

The appointment of election commissioner Arun Goel also came under scrutiny by the top court which sought from the Centre the original records pertaining to his appointment for perusal, saying it wanted to know whether there was any "hanky panky".

The five-judge bench headed by Justice KM Joseph asked Attorney General R Venkataramani: Do you think the election commissioner, if he is asked to take on none less than the Prime minister, we are saying it as an example, can he say no?.

Justice Joseph pressed further, saying Suppose for example, there are some allegations against the Prime Minister and the CEC has to act but he does not act. Will it not be a case of complete breakdown of the system?

The bench also comprised Justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar.

The CEC should be insulated from political influence and needs to be independent and person of character. These are aspects which you have to delve into...why we require an independent larger body for selection and not just the union council of ministers, the bench said.

It told Venkataramani that several reports of the law commission and committees have said there is need for electoral reforms in the Election Commission.

Justice Joseph said he does not remember the particulars but there was an instance when one of the election commissioners had resigned.

"There is a need for a panel and not the council of ministers to recommend the names. There is a need for a change," he observed.

The remarks by the top court came a day after it termed the "exploitation of the silence of the Constitution" and the absence of a law governing the appointments of election commissioners and chief election commissioners a "disturbing trend".

The court flagged Article 324 of the Constitution, which talks about the appointment of election commissioners, and said it does not provide the procedure for such appointments.

The Constitution envisaged the enactment of a law by Parliament in this regard, which has not been done in the last 72 years, leading to exploitation by the Centre, it said on Tuesday.

Venkataramani, however, insisted the current system does not require a change as petitioners have not provided any instance where it can be said that the commission has not acted in a free and fair manner.

"The mechanism (of appointment by the government) is so robust that no one can go rogue except for stray incidents. These stray incidents cannot be a ground for the court to interfere. To safeguard the position is our endeavor," he said.

He added there exists a system under which track records of secretaries and chief secretaries, both retired and serving, are maintained in the database of the Department of Personnel and Training.

"Then a panel of names is prepared by the Law Ministry and is sent to the council of ministers. The name is recommended to the prime minister who then takes it to the president for appointment," he said, adding the present system has been working in fairly good manner.

The bench said it is nowhere suggesting that the system is not correct but there is the need for a transparent mechanism.

Venkataramani said merely the likelihood or apprehension of any wrongdoing does not call for the interference of the court.

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