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SC orders appointments of Election Commissioners on the lines of CBI director

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Shailesh Khanduri
02 Mar 2023
Supreme Court of India

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and elections commissioners will be done by the President on the advice of a committee comprising the prime minister, leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.

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The process ordered by the apex court is same as the appointment of CBI director.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph, in a unanimous verdict, held that this norm will continue to hold good till a law on the issue is made by Parliament.

The apex court said if the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha is not there, then leader of the single largest opposition party will be in the committee to appoint the Chief Election Commissioner and elections commissioners.

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The bench delivered its verdict on a batch of pleas seeking a collegium-like system for the appointment of election commissioners and the Chief Election Commissioner.

The bench also comprising justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar had reserved its judgement on the issue on November 24 last year.

The top court had questioned the "haste" and "tearing hurry" with which the Centre appointed ex-bureaucrat Arun Goel as an Election Commissioner, saying his file travelled at "lightning speed" within departments in 24 hours.

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The central government had vehemently resisted the observations, with Attorney General R Venkataramani contending the whole issue pertaining to his appointment needed to be looked at in entirety.

The top court had asked how the Union law minister shortlisted a panel of four names that was recommended to the prime minister for appointment as election commissioner when none of them would have completed the stipulated six-year tenure in office.

It had perused the Centre's original file on Goel's appointment and said, "What kind of evaluation is this? Although, we are not questioning the merits of Arun Goel's credentials but the process." As the bench questioned the "lightning speed" with which Goel was appointed as an EC without his file even moving within departments for 24 hours, Venkataramani, the government's law officer, urged the bench not to make observations without looking into the entire issue of the appointment process.

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Under the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991, an EC can have a tenure of six years or up to the age of 65, whichever is earlier.

Goel's appointment as an EC came under scrutiny by the top court which had sought from the Centre the original records pertaining to his appointment for perusal, saying it wanted to know whether there was any "hanky panky".

The top court, which had rejected the Centre's objections to its order for producing the original file, had said it wanted to know whether everything was "hunky dory" in the appointment process as claimed by the government.

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On November 19, Goel, a Punjab cadre IAS officer, was appointed as election commissioner.

Goel would be in line to be the next CEC after incumbent Rajiv Kumar demits office in February 2025. His total tenure in the Election Commission would be of over five years.

He will join Kumar and Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey on the poll panel.

There was a vacancy in the Election Commission (EC) following the retirement of previous CEC Sushil Chandra in May.

Goel was the secretary in the Ministry of Heavy Industries till recently and his voluntary retirement came into effect on November 18. He has also served in the Union culture ministry.

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