- It has been mentioned on several occasions that the Supreme Court is not only the true custodian of upholding the tone and tenor of the Constitution but is also viewed as the last resort for the common citizens seeking justice. To its credit, the Supreme Court has punched above its weight to live up to the expectations and enhance its own credibility in the eyes of the Indian people. While discharging their Constitutionally mandated responsibilities, the SC had to also endure not-so-subtle innuendos about being judicially overactive and encroaching upon the territories of the two other arms of the Constitution. Despite these allusions, the SC has been the flag bearer in delivering several landmark and significant judgments over the decades. No complaints there.
- One such judgment was recently delivered when a five-judge Constitution bench of the SC set in motion a process to loosen the grip of the political executive in choosing the Election Commission members. In yet another landmark judgment, the bench while considering a clutch of petitions seeking a neutral selection committee for EC reached a unanimous verdict that a committee composed of the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition or the largest opposition party, and the Chief Justice of India should be entrusted with the task till such time Parliament frames a suitable law. This judgment addresses the conflict of interest inherent in the current selection process for election commissioners.
- Needless to mention, EC is one of the most consequential constitutional bodies. It is entrusted with the task of preparing electoral rolls and supervising elections. For the uninitiated, Article 324 of the Constitution, which deals with EC, left it to Parliament to legislate on the selection process. Getting it right was deemed so important that one of the suggestions in the constituent assembly was to get the selection ratified by a two-thirds majority of a joint session of Parliament. In 1990, a Constitution amendment bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha to form a committee to select the chief election commissioner. This bill did not progress and was withdrawn four years later. In 2015, the law commission recommended a similar committee to the one approved by SC now.
- SC’s decision represents evolution rather than an arbitrary encroachment into the executive domain. Its main beneficiary will be EC. Governments so far have been unwilling to let go of their monopoly in selecting commissioners despite there being a clear conflict of interest. To counter the perception, a selection committee is essential to ensure continued faith in the electoral process. However, welcome as the SC verdict is, it also raises questions about the selection process for the judiciary. The collegium has been under constant attack from within and without. As such, the collegium selection process for the judiciary needs reform too. Why not the higher judiciary earnestly consider having a relook at the present collegium system? Hopefully, it does.