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Upholding the autonomy of the Election Commission

  • Published
    21st Dec, 2022


  • Taking a cue from the case of the appointment of Election Commissioners (EC) (the Supreme Court has reserved its judgment), this article ponders upon the autonomy of key-independent institutions.

The erosion of a ‘classical understanding’:

  • Classical understanding: There are three “wings” of the state: the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. However, in contemporary times, that understanding is no longer dominant.
  • Fourth branch institutions: Healthy constitutional democracies need “integrity institutions”, for providing infrastructure of implementation to ensure basic rights to people. Eg. ECI, CIC etc.
  • Need for Independent Institutions: Extensive control of the government over appointments, e.g., the Central Information Commission (CIC) has led to it becoming a largely toothless body.

Examples from overseas:

  • South African and Kenyan Constitutions: They have dedicated constitutional provisions for “fourth branch institutions” such as Human Rights Commissions, and Election Commissions.
  • South African constitutional court: It has noted that true & functional independence is effectively impossible if the power to appoint rests entirely within a single individual, office.
  • Indian constitutional History: Be it the appointment of judges or the CBI Director, Indian constitutional history is no stranger to the threat of executive power over appointments to independent bodies.
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