New Delhi: There is hardly anything surprising in the Supreme Court raising questions with the Centre or pulling up the government on issues, but in the matter of the appointment of retired Punjab-cadre IAS officer Arun Goel as Election Commissioner on November 19 it raised eyebrows and has led to controversies.
The sequence of swift developments before Goel’s appointment has explained this. It has come out that Goel was secretary in the Union Ministry of Heavy Industries, till he took voluntary retirement on November 18, a day before being appointed as Election Commissioner. It has been said that even the senior functionaries of the Heavy Industries Ministry were not aware of this till it came to light.
Subsequently, on the next day, November 19, Arun Goel was appointed as the Election Commissioner and he joined office two days later, on November 21.
Taking note of the haste in the appointment, on November 23 the Supreme Court asked the Centre to produce the original files related to his selection. The Apex Court told the Centre that it wants to see the files relating to the appointment of Arun Goel as the Election Commissioner and emphasized that it wants to see by what mechanism, “he was picked up”, and “there is no danger to produce it (files).”
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing a petitioner, raised the issue in connection with the appointment of Goel. Bhushan said he was a sitting secretary; he was given voluntary retirement on Friday and the appointment was made on Saturday, and on Monday, he started working as EC.
Bhushan said he had filed an application in connection with the appointment and the court was hearing the matter, yet the government made the appointment. He asked how could the Centre appoint someone in just a day, what processes have been followed and what safeguards are in place.
The top court orally observed that the order of appointment was made, after it started hearing the case and Bhushan had filed an application relating to the vacancy. The top court was hearing a batch of pleas seeking a collegium-like system for the appointment of the CEC and ECs.
Thereafter, on the very next day on November 24, the top Court said what was the “tearing urgency, haste”, and why was the appointment made at lightning speed.
Justice K M Joseph reiterated that the court is concerned about a ‘yes man’ being appointed and asked what is the basis of the Law Minister shortlisting four names from the data of hundreds of people following the age criteria.
Questioning Goel’s appointment in a super-fast manner, the bench remarked that not even in 24 hours, the process was completed and notified.
Talking to IANS, Prof Jagdeep Chhokar, Co-founder, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), said “The officer was appointed overnight when the matter reached court. How he was selected in 22 hours or 26 hours and how the whole process was completed, nobody knows. There is something which has not been revealed.”
Arun Goel’s retirement was due on December 31, 2022. However, with his appointment as Election Commissioner, he will be able to hold office till December 2027. He is also the most likely candidate for the post of Chief Election Commissioner.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited Siasat Desk and is published from a syndicated feed.)