Supreme Court seeks files on Election Commissioner Arun Goel's appointment
The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought "specific files" from the Centre related to the recent appointment of Election Commissioner Arun Goel. It dismissed the government's argument about the court's willingness to view these files while the constitution bench hearing on appointments to the Election Commission of India is ongoing. However, the SC stated it wanted to ensure there was no mischief in Goel's appointment.
Order issued to rule out any irregularities in appointment
The five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph asked the Centre to send the said files as the SC wants to know if there was any "hanky panky" in Goel's appointment as one of the election commissioners. The bench also questioned the Election Commission of India's (ECI) wider appointment process. Notably, Goel—who assumed charge on Monday—took voluntary retirement just days before on Friday.
Article 324 of Constitution doesn't provide procedure for appointments
The court already called for a statute to be passed by the Parliament to outline the appointment procedure, saying Article 324 of the Constitution, which deals with the 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.
Reservation by Attorney General Venkataramani dismissed
The apex court also overruled arguments by Attorney General R Venkataramani, who said it was wrong to hear individual cases—such as Goel's appointment—when it is hearing a larger issue regarding the appointment to the country's top poll body. "I take serious objection to this and have my reservation to the court seeing the file amidst the hearing of a constitution bench," he said.
How did matter of Goel's appointment reach SC?
Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan recently mentioned Goel's appointment during an SC hearing on several petitions on the ECI appointment process and the controlling statutes. Bhushan noted that Goel, a recently-retired IAS officer, was appointed to the three-member ECI shortly after the larger issue of appointments was heard last week. The SC said this is the reason why it wants to know what prompted the action.
Goel took voluntary retirement days before appointment
Goel took charge as an election commissioner only this Monday (November 21). He was to retire on December 31, 2022, after turning 60 years, but he took voluntary retirement on Friday and was appointed as an EC on the poll panel on Saturday. Goel was, until recently, the Heavy Industries Secretary. He served the central and Punjab governments in various capacities for 37 years.
Significance of his appointment as election commissioner
Goel's appointment as an EC comes days before the Gujarat elections, which might see increased friction between the ruling BJP and opposition parties. 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 its full strength when it decides the election schedule for some upcoming state elections.