2 March 2023 1:46 PM GMT
In the judgment recommending reform in the process of appointment of members of the Election Commission of India, the Supreme Court, on Thursday, made some crucial observations on democracy and the role of the Commission in upholding it.A Constitution Bench comprising Justices KM Joseph, Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar reckoned that in the backdrop of...
In the judgment recommending reform in the process of appointment of members of the Election Commission of India, the Supreme Court, on Thursday, made some crucial observations on democracy and the role of the Commission in upholding it.
A Constitution Bench comprising Justices KM Joseph, Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar reckoned that in the backdrop of criminalisation of politics, the surge in the influence of money power and the role of the a section of media that has turned unashamedly partisan it it essential to fill up the vacuum the exists in the process of appointment of members of the Election Commission.
"Criminalisation of politics, with all its attendant evils, has become a nightmarish reality. The faith of the electorate in the very process, which underlies democracy itself, stands shaken. The impact of ‘big money' and its power to influence elections, the influence of certain sections of media, makes it also absolutely imperative that the appointment of the Election Commission, which has been declared by this Court to be the guardian of the citizenry and its Fundamental Rights, becomes a matter, which cannot be postponed further".
"Criminalisation of politics, a huge surge in the influence of money power, the role of certain sections of the media where they appear to have forgotten their invaluable role and have turned unashamedly partisan, call for the unavoidable and unpostponable filling up of the vacuum"
The Bench noted, “Democracy can be achieved only when the governing dispensation sincerely endeavours to observe the fundamental rights in letter and spirit. Democracy will also become fragile and collapse if only lip service is paid to the rule of law.”
It emphasised that it is the bounden duty of the Election Commission to act in a fair and legal manner and abide by the Constitutional framework and the directions of the Courts, considering that the fate of democracy was contemplated to rest in the hands of the Election Commission.
The Bench noted that the petitioners by assailing the process of appointment of the Election Commission are challenging the means to the end of attaining power. In this regard, it observed -
“There can be no doubt that the strength of the democracy...must depend upon the means employed to gain power...The assumption of power through an electoral process in a democracy should not in itself be perceived as an end.”
It added -
“The unrelenting abuse of the electoral process over a period of time is the surest way to the grave of democracy. Democracy can succeed only when all the stakeholders uncompromisingly work at it ...The essential hallmark of a genuine democracy is the transformation of the ruled into a citizenry with rights, which in the case of the Indian Constitution also consists of fundamental rights, which are also being freely exercised.”
The Bench was of the view that if the Election Commission does not endeavour to ensure free and fair election it guarantees the breakdown of process and belittles rule of law. It stated that -
“the cardinal importance of a fiercely independent, honest, competent and fair Election Commission must be tested on the anvil of the rule of law as also the grand mandate of equality.”
It was further noted by the Bench that any action or omission by the Election Commission in holding the poll which treats political parties with uneven hands and in an unfair or arbitrary manner would be an anathema to Article 14 of the Constitution. The Election Commission cannot transgress the mandate of the Constitution or the laws in the name of acting as an independent institution.
“A person who is in a state of obligation or is indebted to who appointed him fails the nation and can have no place in the process of election which forms the very foundation of democracy. An independent person cannot be biased, holding the scales evenly even at the stormiest of times...coming to the rescue of the weak..would qualify as true independence.”
The Bench passed directions to appoint to the post of the Chief Election Commissioner and the other Election Commissioners would be done by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. While doing so, it observed -
“Political parties undoubtedly would appear to betray, especially it would not be forthcoming with the law, the reasons are not far to see…As long as the party that is voted into power is concerned there is not unnaturally an insatiable quest to continue in power….There cannot be any doubt that the ECI is to perform the arduous task of remaining aloof from all forms of subjugation by an interference by an executive…What are the ways in which an executive can bring an otherwise independent body to its knees is by starving it off and cutting off the the requisite financial wherewithals and resources required for its efficient and Independent functioning.”
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