NEW DELHI: In an apparent tussle with the central government, the Supreme Court on Thursday questioned the “lightning fast” appointment of Arun Goel as Election Commission by the Centre days after it made a strong observation that the poll panel chief should not be a “yes man” of the government but an “independent who can act independently”. The apex court made these observations after the Centre submitted the file regarding the appointment of Arun Gel as the Election Commissioner.
Supreme Court reads the files related to the appointment of former IAS officer Arun Goel as the new Election Commissioner last week and questions the Centre about the fast-tracked clearance of files. pic.twitter.com/OUrbTzzT4S
— ANI (@ANI) November 24, 2022
The top court, while seeking the original file of Election Commissioner Arun Goel’s appointment, said, “the file was cleared in “haste” and with “tearing hurry”’’. The top court bench said, “1985-batch IAS officer Arun Goel got voluntary retirement from service 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 Prime Minister and Goel’s name got the nod from the President within 24 hours.”
“What kind of evaluation is this? We are not questioning the merits of Arun Goel’s credentials, but the process,” a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice K M Joseph said.
Appearing on behalf of the Centre, Attorney General R Ventakaramani asked the Supreme Court to “hold its mouth” and urged it to look into the matter ”in its entirety.” The top-most law officer told the bench, which was making a volley of comments on the issue, “Please hold your mouth for a while. I request to look into the issue in its entirety”.
It may be noted that the Supreme Court on Wednesday said that people manning the Election Commission of India should not be “yes man” of the government but “independents who can act independently” even if it comes to taking on the Prime Minister.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph emphasised that the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners should be “procedure-based and transparent”. In a hypothetical poser to the government, the bench asked, “Do you think the Election Commissioner… if he is asked to take on none less than the Prime Minister, it`s just example, and he doesn`t come around to doing it – will it not be a case of a complete breakdown of the system?”
Arun Goel’s Appointment As EC Challenged
The apex court was hearing pleas challenging the constitutionality of the present appointment process of CEC and ECs and contended that appointments were being done as per the whims of the executive.
The daylong hearing on the third day saw the Centre reiterating its argument that the practice of the appointment of CEC and the ECs has worked well over seven decades and there was no “trigger” pointing to any acts of the poll panel adversely impacting the conduct of free and fair elections in the country and for the court to intervene.
Attorney General R Ventakaramani, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Balbir Singh, appearing for the Centre, said that if there is no law prescribing the procedure for the appointment of CEC and the ECs, then the “silence of constitution” on this aspect can be addressed by the parliament alone and not by judicial intervention.
They told the apex court that the independence of the executive was sacrosanct as the independence of the judiciary and there cannot be any outside interference in the affairs of the government. The hearing in the case will continue on Thursday. The petitions sought the creation of an independent collegium or selection committee for future appointments of CEC and two other ECs.
The petitions stated that unlike the appointments of the CBI director or Lokpal, where the leader of the Opposition and judiciary have a say, the Centre unilaterally appoints the members of the Election Commission. The apex court had referred a PILs to the Constitution bench on October 23, 2018.