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SC Vs EC: What Changes Does the Top Court Want In the Election Body?

The top court has been highlighting loopholes with appointments within the body. Here's all you need to know.

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What We Know
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SC Vs EC: What Changes Does the Top Court Want In the Election Body?
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The Supreme Court on, Thursday, 24 November pulled up the government for the “haste” and “tearing hurry” in appointing Arun Goel as Election Commissioner.

The top court pointed out that the file for his appointment was cleared within 24 hours and said:

“The vacancy of the Election Commission arose on May 15 and Election Commissioner Arun Goel’s file was cleared with lightning speed."

However, the five-judge bench clarified: that they were not questioning the merits of Arun Goel’s credentials but the process.

What is all this about? The Supreme Court is hearing a bunch of 2018 petitions seeking to reform the appointment of members to the Election Commission of India.

The five-judge bench hearing the case, including Justices KM Joseph, Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar, started hearing the case on 17 November and reserved its verdict in the case on 24 November.

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What point is the top court trying to make? The Court's run-in today with the government on the Election Commission is one among a series of spats.

On Tuesday, 22 November, the top court had observed that a committee including the Chief Justice of India (CJI) might be the most transparent way of selecting election commissioners.

On 17 November, the bench had contemplated getting someone "above politics" to constitute an independent body to choose election commissioners.

Justice Joseph, who is heading the bench, had two scathing points to make:

1) Chief Election Commissioners since 2007 have had very short tenures.

What did he mean by this? "What the government has been doing is that because it knows the DOB, it ensures that one who is appointed does not get his full 6 years. So, the independence gets thwarted here,” he said.

2) Neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, there are "stringent safeguards" with which election commissioners are appointed.

And came down heavily on the executive...“We wanted to point this out before you because there is no law here. Silences of the constitution is being exploited by all. They (the Executive) have used it to their interest," he said.

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And What Does the Government Have to Say to This? For starters, the Union government has objected to the petitions and contended that any attempt to bring about a "collegium-like system" for the EC will amount to amending the constitution.

And this is the crux of the government's defence: The government has cited a 1991 law and past conventions of appointment recommended by the PM-led cabinet to the President, who then picks an officer.

 “Stray instances cannot be the grounds for the court to interfere. To safeguard the position is our endeavour,” the government's lawyer argued.

This is the process the government is referring to: First a list is prepared of all senior bureaucrats. And then the list is sent to the Law Ministry which is then forwarded to the PM.

"The existing system is working fine and there is no trigger point for the court to intervene," the lawyer added.

What now? The hearing is over and the court has reserved its verdict. It'll announce its judgement later.

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