On March 2, 2023, the Supreme Court of India issued a ruling regarding the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs). The court stated that the President of India would appoint these officials on the advice of a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India (CJI) until a law on the issue is enacted by Parliament.
The decision was made in response to several pleas seeking a collegium-like system for the appointment of ECs and the CEC. The unanimous decision of the constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph clarifies the process of appointment and ensures the continuation of an established norm until a law is passed.
The court also clarified that if the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha is absent, the leader of the single largest opposition party will be included in the committee responsible for appointing the CEC and ECs.
Justice Ajay Rastogi, in a separate judgment, added that the process for removing ECs would be the same as that for removing the CEC, which is impeachment. This verdict was related to various petitions seeking reform in the appointment process for members of the Election Commission of India (ECI).
The petitions challenged the constitutionality of the present appointment process for the CEC and ECs, contending that appointments were being made based on the whims and fancies of the executive. The petitioners sought the creation of an independent collegium or selection committee for future appointments of the CEC and two other ECs.
The Supreme Court reserved its judgment on these petitions on November 24, 2022. The petitions argued that, unlike the appointments of the CBI director or Lokpal, where the leader of the opposition and judiciary have a say, the Centre unilaterally appoints the members of the ECI.
The unanimous decision of the Supreme Court brings clarity to the process of appointment and removal of ECs and ensures the continuation of an established norm until any changes are made by the appropriate authorities.