In an interview recorded just hours after the Supreme Court’s momentous judgement determining that hereafter the chief election commissioner and election commissioners will be appointed by the president on the recommendation of a panel comprising the prime minister, the chief justice of India and the leader of the opposition (or leader of the single largest opposition party) and not simply on the recommendation of the prime minister and the government, former chief election commissioner Dr S.Y. Quraishi has warmly welcomed the judgement, saying “it will change the perception of the institution”.
Quraishi said this is something the Election Commission itself has been demanding for decades, probably from the time of Dr M.S. Gill. It’s certainly something Quraishi has spoken about when he was chief election commissioner.
However, Quraishi said ultimately the strength and neutral functioning of the Election Commission depends on the quality and character of people appointed. He said two steps are necessary to ensure that election commissioners do not look over their shoulder at the government’s response and reaction each time they take a decision. The first is that the process for removing them should be on par with the process for removing the chief election commissioner i.e. only through an impeachment process and not at the recommendation of the CEC. Second, the promotion of election commissioners to CEC should be in terms of their seniority and not left to the discretion or choice of the government of the day.
Quraishi also discussed another important aspect of today’s Supreme Court judgement on which both judges (Justices Rastogi and Joseph) concurred i.e. the Election Commission should have an independent secretariat, rule-making powers and an independent budget which, in effect, means they can draw their funds directly from the consolidated fund of India instead of having to go either to the prime minister’s office or the law ministry for funds and approval. Quraishi said this would strengthen the Election Commission as an institution although he added that up till now, as far as he knows, the Election Commission has not had problems getting the funds it requires but there have occasionally been delays.