New Delhi, Nov 23 (PTI) Opposition parties on Wednesday accused the BJP government of weakening the Election Commission and raised doubts over the selection of poll panel members after the Supreme Court asked the Centre to produce the file on the recent appointment of Arun Goel as election commissioner.
The Congress, TMC, JD(U), RJD and the Left parties said the Election Commission should be above board to ensure free and fair polls, and some of them demanded that key appointments of the poll body be made by a special panel like in the case of the CBI Director.
Congress spokesperson and senior lawyer Abhishek Singhvi said the Centre should never object to showing appointment papers regarding Arun Goel to the apex court, especially since a Constitution bench is seized of the issue of appointment of EC members.
"Does the Centre have something to hide? Daal mein kya kuchh kaala hai? Yaa daal hi kaali hai?" Singhvi said.
JD(U) secretary general K C Tyagi said the Supreme Court's remarks are very alarming and depict the state of affairs in the Election Commission.
"The Election Commission should be neutral and fearless. The SC's remarks reflect the manner in which the EC has been lax in some cases and sometimes tilts in favour of the ruling party. We welcome the SC remarks and the EC should draw lessons from it," Tyagi told PTI.
The JDU leader also said the Chief Justice of India should be taken into confidence while appointing ECs and must be part and parcel of the appointment process.
"The EC is a constitutional body and should remain independent and should maintain its neutrality at all times," he said.
Tyagi also demanded that the poll body should have its separate force and poll machinery and staff for the conduct of free and fair elections, as state officials and forces sometimes feel obliged to the ruling party.
CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the issue of the appointment of ECs is being reviewed by the Supreme Court.
"While this issue is being reviewed by the Supreme Court itself, we have always demanded that the appointment of the CEC and the election commissioners should be in the process that is in place to appoint the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Lokpal.
"There should be a special panel which should include the Leader of Opposition and, in this case, former CECs. Only this will ensure that the sanctity of the poll body is not compromised," Yechury said.
Reacting to the Supreme Court observations on the appointment of Goel, Trinamool Congress' parliamentary party leader in Rajya Sabha Derek O’Brien alleged that over the years, the poll body has been one of the institutions weakened by the BJP government.
"In the last half a dozen years or so, the abbreviation EC has come to mean 'Extremely Compromised'. The Modi government works selfishly to weaken institutions," Brien alleged.
Loktantrik Janata Dal general secretary Javed Raza welcomed the Supreme Court's observations in the case.
"The Supreme Court action is in the right direction. There should be some mechanism in place for appointments in key constitutional bodies like the Election Commission," he told PTI while hoping that in the coming days, a new practice shall be set in motion.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) claimed the "critical concerns" raised by the Supreme Court over the functioning of the Election Commission prove that the poll panel has not been following its mandate of conducting free and fair elections for the last couple of years.
"They have raised questions on selection criteria and that vindicates our position that in the last couple of years, the Election Commission of India has not been following its mandate under Article 324 which calls for conducting free and fair elections," Jha told PTI.
The poll panel has been silent on hate speeches as well as on unsavoury remarks made by ruling party leaders, the RJD leader alleged.
"I think it is a direction of course correction also so that the idea of free and fair election does not die," he said.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought original records on the appointment of Arun Goel, a 1985-batch IAS officer, as election commissioner on November 19 by the Centre soon after being given voluntary retirement from service.
The court said it wanted to know whether there was any "hanky panky" or everything was "hunky dory" in the appointment process as claimed by the government.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice K M Joseph rejected the objections of Attorney General R Venkataramani to the court seeking the file related to Goel's appointment while hearing the larger issue of appointment of election commissioners and Chief Election Commissioner.
The apex court also said that the inclusion of the Chief Justice of India in the consultative process for the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner would ensure independence of the poll panel.
It was of the view that any ruling party at the Centre "likes to perpetuate itself in power" and can appoint a 'Yes Man' to the post under the current system. PTI ASG ASK SKC RT