Must find best man as CEC, TN Seshan happens once in a while: Supreme Court | The Financial Express

Must find best man as CEC, TN Seshan happens once in a while: Supreme Court

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice K M Joseph and comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar, was hearing petitions seeking reforms in the system of appointing election commissioners.

Must find best man as CEC, TN Seshan happens once in a while: Supreme Court
"There have been numerous CECs and T N Seshan happens once in a while. We do not want anyone to bulldoze him," the bench said. File Image.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said its endeavour is to put a system in place so that the “best man” is selected as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), adding that it wants a CEC of strong character like late T N Seshan, who “happens once in a while”, news agency PTI reported.

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice K M Joseph and comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar, was hearing petitions seeking reforms in the system of appointing election commissioners.

“There have been numerous CECs and T N Seshan happens once in a while. We do not want anyone to bulldoze him. Enormous power has been vested on the fragile shoulder of three men (two ECs and the CEC). We have to find the best man for the post of CEC. The question is how do we find that best man and how to appoint that best man,” the bench said, as quoted by PTI.

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Seshan was a former cabinet secretary to the Union government. He was appointed as the EC on December 12, 1990 with a tenure of six years till December 11, 1996. He passed away in 2019.

The top court told Attorney General R Venkataramani, who appeared in the matter on behalf of the Centre, “What is important is that we put a fairly good procedure so that apart from competence, someone of strong character is appointed as the CEC.”

Responding to it, Venkataramani said nobody can have any objection to it and in his view, even the government is not going to oppose the appointment of the best man, but the question is how can it be done.

“There is no vacuum in the Constitution. Election commissioners are presently appointed by the president on the aid and advice of the council of ministers. When there were no enactments, the Vineet Narain and Vishaka judgments (that laid down guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment at workplace) happened but in this case, there is no such vacuum,” he said, adding that the court has to look at the issue from this perspective.

The top court bench said that although the CEC’s tenure is six years, no CEC has completed his tenure since 2004, and pointed out provisions which state that if the CEC attains the age of 65, he will retire before the completion of his six-year term. It said that during the 10-year rule of the UPA government, there were six CECs and in the eight years of the NDA government, there have been eight CECs.

“So, what the government has been doing is that because it knows the date of birth, it ensures that the one who is appointed does not get his full six years. So, the independence gets thwarted. This trend has continued,” said the bench, as reported by The Indian Express.

The bench also said since 1990, voices have been raised from various quarters and once, veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L K Advani had written for a collegium-like system for constitutional bodies, including election commissioners.

“Democracy is a basic structure of the Constitution. There is no debate to that. We also cannot tell Parliament to do something and we will not do that. We just want to do something to the issue that has been raised since 1990. The situation on the ground is alarming. We know that there will be opposition from the ruling party to not allow us go past the present system,” the bench said.

The apex court also said that the absence of law governing the appointments of ECs and CECs is a “disturbing trend”, and flagged Article 324 of the Constitution, which deals with the appointments of election commissioners, and said that it does not provide the procedure for the appointments.

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In 2018, the Supreme Court had referred a PIL seeking a collegium-like system for the selection of CECs and ECs to a five-judge Constitution bench for authoritative adjudication.

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First published on: 23-11-2022 at 11:52 IST