The Supreme Court questioned the Center on Thursday over the appointment of Arun Goel as Electoral Commissioner, saying his name was finalized at “lightning speed”.
A five-judge bench headed by Justice KM Joseph while hearing a petition for reforms in the appointment of election commissioners noted that Goel’s file moved in just 24 hours. When the Center filed the original file of his appointment with the court, the high court asked if there was any reason behind the urgency to move his file.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, representing the petitioner, stated that Goel was working as a government secretary until Friday. However, he voluntarily retired and was appointed Electoral Commissioner the next day.
Election Commission of India
The President appoints the Election Commissioners and the Chief Election Commissioner for terms of six years or until the age of 65. CECs and ECs enjoy the same status and receive salary and benefits as Justices of the Supreme Court. In accordance with article 324, the powers of “superintendency, direction and control of the elections” will fall on an Electoral Commission.
Article 324(2) also provides that “The Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may appoint from time to time.”
From the beginning, the CEC has been included in the Election Commission of India; however, in October 1989, the Congress-led government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi appointed two more election commissioners. This turned the Electoral Commission into a multi-member body. This was heavily criticized as an attempt to compromise the independence of the EC.
Therefore, in January 1990, the National Front-led government of Prime Minister VP Singh changed the rules and made the EC a one-member body again. However, in October 1993, the administration led by PM PV Narasimha Rao enacted an Ordinance to elect two more ECs.
Since then there have been three EC members. The Ordinance was eventually superseded by the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Terms of Service) Amendment Act 1993, which came into force in January 1994.
What is the process for appointing the Electoral Commission?
On Wednesday, the SC had asked the Center about the “mechanism” by which Arun Goel had been appointed and ordered it to produce the file. Judge Ajay Rastogi asked if there was any specific mechanism or if it was recommended by the Council of Ministers.
Attorney General R Venkataramani responded that the mechanism followed a ‘proven convention’. He said that a list of serving and retired officials in the position of Secretaries is prepared, from which a panel of names is prepared for consideration by the PM and the President. After considering the panel, the Prime Minister recommends a person’s name along with a note to the President of India.
He explained that the appointment of the EC follows seniority and the older of the two ECs becomes the CEC, adding that it is all based on “time-tested convention” and therefore “it was not a selection and choice at all.” .”
Is there some ‘rush or heartbreaking urgency’ in Goel’s appointment as EC?
The Supreme Court questioned whether there was any ‘rush or heartbreaking urgency’ in appointing Goel as CE. Judge Joseph asked for it to be placed on 18 November, it was moved on the same day, and the name was recommended by the Prime Minister on the same day. “Not for any kind of confrontation, but was there some kind of rush or heartbreaking urgency?”
Judge Rastogi asked: “This vacancy has been available since May… Can you show what prevailed over the government to start the process so that everything was done in the shortest possible time, super fast? The file has not traveled even 24 hours. What kind of evaluation was there?”
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