EC Arun Goel's file 'cleared in haste?': SC to Centre
The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Union government if the appointment of Arun Goel as the new election commissioner at the country's top poll panel was cleared in "haste" and "a tearing hurry." The vacancy in the Election Commission of India (ECI) arose on May 15, while Goel's appointment file was cleared last week with "lightning speed" within a day, the SC observed.
'Hold your mouth': Attorney General to SC
Noting Goel's appointment as an election commissioner (EC) was approved with "lightning speed," the SC asked the government, "What kind of evaluation is this?" "We are not questioning the merits of...Goel's credentials but the process of his appointment," it added. However, Attorney General R Venkataramani, representing the Centre, suggested the court "hold its mouth," adding, "I request to look into the issue in entirety."
The issue over Goel's appointment
Headed by Justice KM Joseph, the five-judge constitution bench heard the issue of Goel's appointment for the third straight day on Thursday. Goel's appointment came up during its hearing on several petitions on the ECI's broader appointment procedure. Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan recently mentioned Goel's appointment at the bench's hearing on the issue of the appointments to the country's top poll body.
Bench questions broader appointment procedure of ECI
After Goel's appointment came under the Supreme Court's scrutiny, it asked the Centre to submit his appointment files on Wednesday, saying it wanted to know if there was any "hanky panky" in his appointment. The five-judge constitution bench also questioned the broader appointment procedure of the ECI. Notably, Goel—who assumed charge on Monday—took voluntary retirement just days before on Friday.
Timing of Goel's appointment is interesting
Goel's appointment as an EC came only days before the Gujarat Assembly polls, which might witness increased friction between the opposition parties and the ruling BJP. Moreover, he will be the next in line to become the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) when incumbent Rajiv Kumar retires in 2025 The ECI will now have full strength when it decides the election schedules for upcoming elections.
Who is Arun Goel?
Goel was, until recently, the Heavy Industries Secretary. He served the central and Punjab governments in various capacities for 37 years. He was to retire on December 31, 2022, after turning 60 years. However, he took voluntary retirement on Friday. Interestingly, the very next day, he was named as an EC on the poll panel on Saturday and he assumed charge on Monday.
SC suggests CJI's inclusion in ECI appointment panel
Separately, on the ECI's appointment procedure on Wednesday, the bench suggested the Chief Justice of India's inclusion in the consultative processes for appointing the CEC and ECs could ensure the independent functioning of the poll body. But Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued it wasn't right to presume the mere presence of someone from the judiciary on the appointment panel would guarantee independence and transparency.
Article 324 doesn't provide procedure for appointments: SC
The court earlier also called for a law to be passed by the Parliament to outline the appointment procedure, saying Article 324 of the Constitution, which deals with election commissioner appointments, lacks a mechanism for the same. The government, however, invoked a 1991 law and previous appointment conventions to show it is the country's president—aided by the prime minister-led cabinet—who selects an election commissioner.