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Sat. Nov 26th, 2022
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NEW DELHI: The Centre faced another round of questioning on Thursday on the appointment of the chief election commissioner (CEC) and election commissioners (ECs) from the Supreme Court after it perused the process adopted by the government to appoint Arun Goel. The court said it was “mystified” by the criteria adopted to shortlist names for the post of EC and by the whole process being completed at “lightning speed” within 24 hours without any deliberation.
A five-judge Constitution bench of Justices KM Joseph, Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar which perused the file on appointment of Goel as election commissioner noted that the vacancy was there in the poll panel since May but in November, the government moved rapidly to finalise the appointment process in less than 24 hours. The court made it clear that it was neither questioning the credentials of the officer nor examining the validity of his appointment but scrutinising the process adopted by the government.
“The vacancy was there since May 15. Can you tell us what happened between May 15 to November 18? What was that which prevailed on the government to do it in a shortest period of time? Same day the file was processed, same day clearance, same day application and same day appointment. File has not even travelled for 24 hours. Why was the file cleared with lightning fast speed? What kind of evaluation was done?” the bench asked attorney general R Venkataramani. The latter replied that there was no “disquieting feature” in the appointment and most earlier appointments were done in 2-3 days and fault could not be found in the speed of the decision-making process.
The bench said there was nothing wrong in speed and there was a context in the case as the matter was pending in court and it was examining the case. The AG said there was no injunction not to carry out the appointment and he had suggested the Centre to go ahead with the process.
The bench thereafter raised questions on criteria followed by the law ministry to shortlist only four names out of a vast number of officers and why people, who had retired or were on the verge of retirement, were considered. The bench hinted that it may be a case that the government “carefully chose” four names who could be the “yes man” despite having a very excellent academic and administrative record. The government said it was a wrong impression and there is no lens or litmus test which would reveal that a person is docile or a ‘yes man’.
The bench made it clear that it was not hinting that the appointment was “tailor-made” but wanted to know how the law ministry zeroed in on four names. As the AG said it was done on the basis of seniority in service and age of the person, the bench pointed out that there were many younger officers from the same batch and why names from other batches were not considered.
“How the law ministry selected four names? You have understood our question but you are not answering us… What were the criteria followed by the ministry in picking four names? We are also mystified,” the bench said.
The AG said the court should not doubt every step of appointment and told the bench, “There is no disquieting feature in the appointment and I will dispel that impression. There is no design in it.”
The bench maintained, “We are still struggling with reason and logic. There are many officers of that category. You are right in saying that age is a criterion. But why only four when 40 others fulfil the criteria?”
Wrapping up hearing on the issue, Justice Roy in a lighter vein told the AG, “You have given eight points in your note. Ninth point is missing and that could have been that the election is all about numbers and the officer (Goel) was selected for being gold medallist in mathematics.”
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner, informed the court that there are 136 officers from the same batch and many of them were younger than Goel but they were not considered for the post.
The court, after hearing all the sides, reserved its order on the batch of petitions seeking the court’s direction for setting up of an independent panel for appointment of CEC/ECs in a fair and transparent process. One of the suggestions included appointment through a selection panel comprising the PM, Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India, similar to the panel that selects the CBI director.
Seeking the court’s intervention, the petitioners asserted that Article 324(2) mandates Parliament to enact a just, fair and reasonable law relating to the appointment of the CEC and ECs, but nothing has been done in the last seven decades and the appointments were being done solely by the executive which is incompatible with Article 324(2) and is ‘manifestly arbitrary’.
The Law Commission also recommended change in the existing procedure and said in its 2015 report that appointment of all election commissioners, including the CEC, should be made by the President in consultation with a three-member collegium or selection committee, consisting of the PM, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha (or the leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha) and the CJI.

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