To Strengthen Democratic Processes Election Commission Needs To Be Independent & Demonstrate Transparency & Accountability: SC
The Supreme Court has observed that in order to strengthen the democratic processes, the Election Commission needs to be independent and demonstrate transparency and accountability.
This observation was made in the case where the five-judge Constitution bench comprising Justices KM Joseph, Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar held that the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners shall be made by the President on the advice of a committee comprising the Prime Minister, leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha (or leader of largest opposition party in Lok Sabha) and the Chief Justice of India.
“To strengthen the democratic processes, the institution of the Election Commission needs to be independent and demonstrate transparency and accountability.”, Justice Ajay Rastogi, who delivered a separate but concurring verdict observed.
Senior Advocate Gopal Shankarnarayanan, Advocate Prashant Bhushan appeared for the petitioners whereas Attorney General R Venkataramani, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, and Additional Solicitor General Balbir Singh appeared for Union of India.
Justice Ajay Rastogi noted that the decisions taken by the Election Commission need to generate the trust of the people so that the sanctity of the democratic process is maintained. He further added that if the Election Commission starts showing any arbitrary decision-making, then the resulting situation would not just create doubt on the members of the Election Commission of being biased but would create fear in the minds of the common citizens that the democratic process is being compromised.
Justice Rastogi further observed that “The Indian democracy has succeeded because of the people's faith and participation in the electoral process as well as the everyday work of the institution. As a constitutional court of the world’s largest democracy, we cannot allow the dilution of people’s faith in democratic institutions. The country gained and adopted democracy after decades of struggle and sacrifices, and the gains received by us cannot be given away because the institutions still continue to operate in an opaque manner.”
On the aspect of the right to vote, Justice Ajay Rastogi observed that “The right to take part in the conduct of public affairs as a voter is the core of the democratic form of government, which is a basic feature of the Constitution. The right to vote is an expression of the choice of the citizen, which is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a). The right to vote is a part of a citizen's life as it is their indispensable tool to shape their own destinies by choosing the government they want.”
Justice Ajay Rastogi noted that two procedural safeguards are available regarding the removal of the Chief Election Commissioner under Article 324(5). He further noted that the protection available to the Chief Election Commissioners is not available to other Election Commissioners.
“Article 324(5) of the Constitution is intended to ensure the independence of the Election Commission free from all external political interference and, thus, expressly provides that the removal of the Chief Election Commission from office shall be in like manner as on the grounds as of a Judge of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, a similar procedure has not been provided for other Election Commissioners under second proviso to Article 324(5) of the Constitution.”, Justice Rastogi observed.
He emphasized that it is the need of the hour to extend the protection available to the Chief Election Commissioner under the first proviso to Article 324(5) to other Election Commissioners as well until any law is being framed by the Parliament.
“…keeping in view the importance of maintaining the neutrality and independence of the office of the Election Commission to hold free and fair election which is a sine qua non for upholding the democracy as enshrined in our Constitution, it becomes imperative to shield the appointment of Election Commissioners and to be insulated from the executive interference. It is the need of the hour and advisable, in my view, to extend the protection available to the Chief Election Commissioner under the first proviso to Article 324(5) to other Election Commissioners as well until any law is being framed by the Parliament.”, he held.
Cause title- Anoop Baranwal v. Union of India