The Congress on Thursday welcomed the Supreme Court verdict on the appointment of the chief election commissioner and election commissioners and demanded that the same formula be applied to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) as well.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi termed the decision historic and said steps are required to be taken to stop the misuse of agencies and institutions by the BJP-led government.
In a far-reaching verdict, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the appointment of the chief election commissioner and election commissioners will be made by the president on the recommendation of a committee comprising the prime minister, the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha and the chief justice of India to maintain the ”purity of elections”.
”We strongly welcome the historic decision of the Supreme Court, wherein it held that the chief election commissioner must be appointed by way of a committee comprising the prime minister, the CJI and the leader of opposition (or the leader of the single-largest party),” Singhvi told reporters here.
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He said the verdict has come at a crucial time as the ruling regime has been one of the ”worst offenders” when it comes to violating electoral safeguards with no consequences for its actions.
It is the only regime where the apex court had to intervene to get it to hear documented complaints against the prime minister and the home minister, and under which an incumbent election commissioner was compelled to give a dissent note on how he differed from the blank exonerations given to the prime minister and the home minister in those cases, Singhvi said, adding that the election commissioner and his family faced severe consequences for his dissent.
”It gives the Election Commission (EC) an important reminder of its role in maintaining and sustaining our democracy,” he said.
The Congress leader recalled the observations made by the top court that the EC has to be independent and it cannot claim to be independent and then act in an unfair manner and that the country ”needs someone who cannot be bulldozed”.
”These observations and the judgment are a powerful indictment of the functioning of the EC over the last eight years,” he noted.
The Congress MP asked what action was taken against certain leaders despite written complaints against them and recalled how no step was initiated by the poll panel against the prime minister and the home minister for their ”hate speeches” and ”divisive statements”.
”Has the ECI taken any action against the rampant misuse of government resources during election time despite numerous complaints?” he asked while noting that there are several such examples.
Alleging that the government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is well aware of its dependance on the poll panel’s ”cooperation” to secure and shore up its often untenable positions, ”all of which are documented by us in our written representations to the ECI”, he said, ”It is now important that other important posts, such as those of the ED, where the influence of the executive is overwhelming, must also be checked.” Currently, appointments on posts, such as those of the CBI chief, CVC, NHRC chairman and Lokpal, are effected by a three-member committee consisting of the prime minister, the CJI and the leader of opposition.
”This procedure needs to be extended to other important posts, especially that of the director of the ED. Currently, the ED director is appointed (under section 25 of the CVC Act, 2003) by way of a committee which consists overwhelmingly of representatives of the executive.
”That selection committee is headed by the central vigilance commissioner and has vigilance commissioners, the secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the secretary of the Ministry of Personnel and the secretary of the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance as its members. That is why we see brazen and illegal extensions, in violation and a direct contempt of the Supreme Court’s orders, being allowed by the committee,” Singhvi said while asserting that the time has come for the judiciary to review this skewed balance of power and take corrective action.
”If the EC can have a selection process on the basis of fairness and independence, shouldn’t (the members of) an institution like the ED, which can directly create terror in politics, also be selected through this process? The same ED, which has become the political ally of the government today,” he said.
The Congress leader also said it is interesting how the government vigorously opposed the court decision and during hearings, argued vehemently against its loss of control over the process.
”This itself is telling. There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of complaints filed against the ruling regime’s excesses by multiple parties over the last few years and only once has an election commissioner raised his voice for which he was unjustly penalised and punished,” he said.
A five-judge Constitution bench of the top court headed by Justice KM Joseph, in a unanimous verdict, also said an ”unrelenting abuse” of the electoral process over a period of time is the ”surest way to the grave of democracy”.
In a democracy, the ”purity of elections” must be maintained or else, it would lead to ”disastrous consequences”, the bench said.
The direction on the appointments of election commissioners will continue to hold good till a law on the issue is enacted by Parliament, it added.