The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, asked the Centre to produce on November 24 the files related to the appointment of former IAS officer Arun Goel as the new Election Commissioner.
Former bureaucrat Arun Goel assumed the office of Election Commissioner on Monday after being appointed to the post on November 19. Since May this year, the post of one Election Commissioner in the three-member commission was lying vacant after Sushil Chandra retired as the CEC.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph said that it wanted to understand the process that was followed in the appointment of the former bureaucrat as Election Commissioner even as it was hearing a case regarding the procedure for such appointments.
“We would like you (Centre) to produce the files relating to the appointment of this officer. So that if you are in the right, as you claim, that there is no hanky-panky, then there is nothing to fear,” the bench said.
The bench, also comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar, said that the court would like to know what mechanism was followed.
Attorney General R Venkataramani, appearing for the Centre, objected to the mixing up of the appointment of Goel with the larger issue of the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs) already being heard by the court.
The apex court’s order came after advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner, brought up the issue of the appointment of Goel.
Bhushan said that Goel was given a Voluntary Retirement from Service on Thursday and his appointment was notified on November 19.
“Everybody, who has been appointed as Election Commissioners, is retired. But he was a sitting Secretary in the Government. Thursday this Court heard the arguments. Friday he was given voluntary retirement. His appointment order was issued on Saturday or Sunday and on Monday he started working,” Bhushan argued.
The bench then asked AG about the mechanism adopted by the Centre for the appointment of the officer as EC.
“What is the mechanism by which this officer was picked up by the Attorney General? Can it be made when the matter was being considered by this Court? The appointment was made when the matter was being considered by this Court,” Justice Joseph said, adding that the court wants to know whether the appointment was made when the Constitution bench was hearing the matter.
Attorney General said there was no injunction against the appointments.
The Supreme Court had said yesterday that the Constitution has vested enormous powers on the “fragile shoulder” of the CEC and the two ECs and stressed on “fair and transparent mechanism” so that the “best man” is appointed as the CEC.
The bench said it’s important that through a “fairly good procedure someone of strong character is appointed” as the CEC.
The apex court was hearing pleas challenging the constitutionality of the current appointment process of CEC and ECs and contended that appointments were being made as per the whims and fancies of the executive.
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 PILs to a Constitution bench on October 23, 2018.
(SNS with inputs from agencies)