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'It would lead to chaos': SC rejects pleas for stay on appointment of new election commissioners

Gyanesh Kumar, a former Bihar cadre officer, and Sukhbir Sandhu, who served in the Punjab cadre, were appointed as election commissioners on March 14.

Edited By: Arushi Jaiswal @JaiswalArushi New Delhi Published on: March 21, 2024 13:18 IST
Supreme Court of India
Image Source : FILE PHOTO Supreme Court of India

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected applications seeking a stay on the appointment of two new election commissioners, stating that it would result in "chaos" and "uncertainty" given the proximity of the elections.

The apex court also emphasised that the Election Commission operates independently and is not subject to the control of the executive. Therefore, it declined to grant any interim stay on the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Terms of Office) Act, 2023.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court announced that it will examine the primary petitions challenging the validity of the 2023 Act. It directed the Centre to submit its response within six weeks and scheduled the matter for hearing on August 5.

Here's what court said

"At the stage, we cannot stay the legislation or suspend it operation. It would lead to chaos and uncertainty and we cannot do it (stay) by way of an interim order. There are no allegations against the new election commissioners," a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta told the petitioners who have challenged the new law.

The petitioners were also seeking a stay on the appointment of new election commissioners.

"We are dismissing the applications for stay on the appointment," the bench said.

Observing that it cannot be denied that election commissioners should be independent and fair, the bench said polls have been held since Independence and the country has had very good election commissioners in the past.

The court observed the transition from previous practices where election commissioners were appointed by the executive to the current scenario where appointments are made under a specific law.

Regarding the appointment process outlined in the 2023 Act, the Supreme Court clarified that its earlier verdict did not mandate the inclusion of a judicial member in the selection panel for appointing election commissioners.

It said the intent of the 2023 verdict, which proposed a selection panel comprising the prime minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India, was for a period till Parliament enacts a law.

The verdict was intended to nudge Parliament to enact law as there was a "vacuum" and it didn't say what kind of law should be made, the bench said.

During the hearing, the bench questioned the Centre over the procedure adopted for appointment of two new election commissioners.

It said the selection committee should have been given more time to apply its mind on the appointment of election commissioners.

"The search committee for appointment of election commissioners should have been given a fair share of time to understand the background of candidates," the bench observed.

Two new election commissioners appointed

Retired IAS officers Gyanesh Kumar and Sukhbir Singh Sandhu were recently appointed as election commissioners. The appointments came ahead of the Lok Sabha polls starting on April 19.

Under the new law, the selection panel has the prime minister as the chairperson, and the leader of opposition and a Union minister nominated by the prime minister are the two other members.

A five-judge constitution bench had in March 2023 ruled that the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs) shall be appointed on the advice of a committee comprising the prime minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.

(With PTI inputs)

Also Read: Two new election commissioners Gyanesh Kumar, Sukhbir Singh Sandhu assume charge

Also Read: Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, Gyanesh Kumar appointed Election Commissioners ahead of Lok Sabha polls 2024

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