New Delhi [India]: The Supreme Court on Thursday questioned the Centre on the appointment of former IAS officer Arun Goel as the new Election Commissioner at a “lightning speed” saying the process was completed within 24 hours.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph perused the original files brought by the Centre on Goel’s appointment as Election Commissioner. “What was that prevailed upon the government to initiate the process in a manner that everything has to be done within the shortest possible time and super fast?” asked the bench also comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar.
“On November 18… We find the file (Arun Goel appointment file) moved same day. Then the Prime Minister says considering experiences, sustainability I recommend the name. It was done in a day,” Justice Joseph asked Attorney General (AG) R Venkataramani who was appearing for Central government, about the tearing hurry.
The bench added, “Same day process, same day clearance, same day application, same day acceptance, and same day appointment. MR. Attorney General, the file has not travelled 24 hours as if the lightning speed is there. What kind of evaluation is there?”
The Central government said there is no disquieting feature in the appointment.
The bench clarified that it was not questioning the merits of Arun Goel’s credentials, but the process.
Yesterday, the bench asked the Centre to produce the file related to the appointment of Goel as the new Election Commissioner.
Meanwhile, the apex court reserved its judgement on a batch of pleas seeking a collegium-like system for the appointment of Election Commissioners (ECs) and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC).
Goel took voluntary retirement from his previous posting on November 18 and was appointed Election Commissioner on November 19 and took charge on November 21.
The top court questioned the Central government for appointing the 1985-batch IAS officer Goel in a single day.
“According to your first page, this vacancy was since May 15. Can you show us that from May to November, what was it that weighed on the government that everything must be done superfast in November,” asked Justice Ajay Rastogi.
Perusing the file, the top court asked how the Ministry of Law and Justice shortlisted four names for the appointment of Election Commissioner.
“How out of a vast reservoir of names, the government actually select a name,” asked the bench.
It observed that even among the four names, the Centre has selected names of people who will not get even six years as Election Commissioner.
The Centre is required to pick up people who should get six years as Election Commissioner, said the top court.
“Centre has not picked up such people who will get an ordinary period of six years as Election Commissioner either,” it said.
Asking why the Centre restricted the name to these four people, the apex court said there are more senior bureaucrats and how the Centre selected someone instead who will not get the six-year period at all.
It also clarified that the Supreme Court is on the mechanism of appointment of Election Commissioners and Chief Election Commissioners.
Attorney General responded that there is a mechanism and criteria for selection and there cannot be a scenario where the government has to look back at every officer’s track record and ensure that he completes the six-year tenure.
Under the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991, an Election Commissioner can have a tenure of six years or up to the age of 65, whichever is earlier.
Yesterday it observed that the Election Commission of India should not be the “yes man” of the government but an “independent who can act independently” even if it comes to taking on the Prime Minister.
On a previous hearing, the bench had stressed on “fair and transparent mechanism” so that the “best man” is appointed as the CEC.
The apex court was hearing pleas challenging the constitutionality of the present appointment process of CEC and ECs and contended that appointments were being done as per the whims and fancies of the executive.
The petitions sought the creation of an independent collegium or selection committee for future appointments of CEC and two other ECs.
The petitions stated 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 Election Commission.
On October 23, 2018, the apex court had referred PILs to the Constitution bench.