The Supreme Court on Monday sought responses from the Centre and the poll panel on a plea seeking treatment of two Election Commissioners on par with the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) in the matter of removability. A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud granted four weeks time to the central government and the Election Commission of India (ECI) to file responses to the PIL.
Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, lawyer and Delhi BJP spokesperson who has filed the PIL, has sought a direction to the Centre not to remove the two Election Commissioners (ECs) from their office, except in a similar manner and grounds provided for removing the CEC.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, who was earlier asked to assist the bench, today appeared and said he may have different views on the matter and hence, the Centre should also be directed to file its response. "Let a copy of this petition be served on the Central Agency so that they can intimate the Attorney General of India to assist the court," the bench had ordered on December 1, last year.
The plea said "the element of independence sought to be achieved under the Constitution is not exclusively for an individual alone but for the institution. Hence, autonomy to the ECI can only be strengthened if the ECs are also provided with the similar protection as that of the CEC." It pointed out that Article 324(5) of the Constitution protects the CEC from removal, except if the manner and grounds of removal are the same as a judge of the Supreme Court.
It said the reason for giving this protection to the CEC was in order to ensure autonomy to the ECI from external pulls and pressure but the "rationale behind not affording similar protection to ECs is not explicable." The CEC and ECs enjoy the same decision-making powers, which is suggestive of the fact that their powers are at par with each other, it contended. "However, Clause(5) of the Article 324 does not provide similar protection to the ECs and it merely says that the ECs cannot be removed from office except on the recommendation of the CEC," the petition said.
It also sought steps to provide an independent secretariat to the ECI and declare its expenditure as charged on the Consolidated Fund of India on the lines of the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha secretariats. "Direct the Central Government to take appropriate steps to confer rulemaking authority on the ECI on the lines of the rulemaking authority vested in the Supreme Court of India to empower it to make election-related rules and code of conduct," the petition said. It has sought a direction to the Centre to take appropriate steps to confer rulemaking authority on the ECI on the lines of that vested with the Supreme Court to empower it to make election-related rules and code of conduct.