Supreme Court Refuses To Hold Poll Officers’ Appointment


New Delhi:

In a significant order weeks before the elections, the Supreme Court has once again refused to order a stay on the law to appoint election commissioners, stating that doing so at this stage would be “creating chaos”.

While making the observations during a hearing on Thursday, the court also noted that there are no allegations against the newly appointed election commissioners, Gyanesh Kumar and Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, who were picked after changes were made to the selection panel under the new law.

The bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta said, “You can’t say the Election Commission is under the thumb of the Executive.” 

Pointing out to the petitioners that it cannot be presumed that the law enacted by the Centre is wrong, the bench added, “There are no allegations against the persons who have been appointed… Elections are around the corner. Balance of convenience is very important.” 

The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, had been passed by the Parliament last year and subsequently got the President’s assent. 

The new law replaced the Chief Justice of India on a committee to pick election commissioners with a Union Cabinet minister. The committee now has the Prime Minister, a Union Cabinet minister and the Leader of the Opposition, raising concerns over its impartiality. 

After Gyanesh Kumar and Sukhbir Singh Sandhu were picked by the panel last week, Congress’ leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had claimed he had been given 212 names for scrutiny the night before, and a shortlist of six names just before the meeting. 

The panel had PM Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Mr Chowdhury. The senior Congress leader had said,  “The Chief Justice of India should have been on this committee,” adding that the new law had reduced the meeting to a “formality”.

‘Could Have Given More Time’

Emphasising that the meeting had been rescheduled from March 15 – when the Supreme Court was supposed to hear a related matter – to March 14, advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was appearing for the petitioners, pointed to Mr Chowdhury’s comments and said the shortlist had been sought on March 12, but it had not been given. 

Mr Bhushan then said that the point being raised by the petitioners was on the procedure of selection and the independence of the Commission. 

“They have a point there…you have to give opportunity to examine names,” the bench said, adding that this could have been avoided by giving 2-3 days to the members to study the list. 
 


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