New Delhi (24.11.2022): When the Supreme Court of India questioned the "haste" and "tearing hurry" in appointing Arun Goel as Election Commissioner of India, the court made it clear to the Attorney General that it is making these observations, not on the appointment of any individual nor the bench is doubting competence of the said officers but questioning the very process.
The 1985-batch IAS officer got VRS in a single day, his file was cleared by the Law Ministry in a single day, a panel of four names were put up before the New Delhi establishment and Arun Goel's name got the nod from the President within 24 hours. The Centre vehemently resisted the observations, with Attorney General R Venkataramani saying the whole issue pertaining to the appointment of Goel be looked into its entirety.
Hearing a case on such appointments, the Constitution Bench led by Justice K M Joseph has talked about a collegium system for the appointment of EC and CEC with the Chief Justice of India being part of it. The SC reserved its verdict on a batch of pleas seeking a collegium-like system and asked the parties to file written submissions in five days.
The top court, which had rejected the Centre's objections to its order for producing the original file, had said it wanted to know whether everything was "hunky dory" in the appointment process as claimed by the government.
Venkataramani 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.
Referring to Goel's appointment, the Attorney General said his profile is important and not the VRS which is being made an issue. The bench said the 1991 Act says that the Election Commissioner's tenure is of six years and the government has to ensure that the person who holds the post completes the stipulated period.
The SC perused the original file of Goel's appointment as an Election Commissioner, which was placed before the bench by the Centre. The bench, which also comprised Justices Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar, said none of the four names in the panel were "carefully hand-picked" by the Law Minister so that they could complete a six-year tenure.
Goel would be in line to be the next CEC after incumbent Rajiv Kumar demits office in February 2025. His total tenure in the Election Commission would be of over five years.
(By Vinod Kumar Shukla)