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Justice KM Joseph, Justice Nagarathna recuse from hearing ADR’s challenge to appointment of Arun Goel as Election Commission member

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The Supreme Court Bench of Justice K.M. Joseph and Justice B.V. Nagarathna on Monday recused from hearing a petition filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), challenging the appointment of Arun Goel as a member of the Election Commission of India.

After hearing the matter for some time, the Bench decided to recuse the same. The case will now be listed for hearing before another Bench.

Appearing for ADR, Advocate Prashant Bhushan said that a Constitution Bench in a recent judgement had given directions to reform the process of appointment of Election Commissioners. Goel’s appointment was assailed on the basis of these observations, he added. 

While considering the matter, the Constitution Bench had scrutinised the process of appointment of Goel as EC during the pendency of the matter. 

The Constitution Bench had observed that the process of appointment of Goel as an Election Commissioner threw up certain pertinent questions. It had taken note of the fact that the appointment of Goel was made with the ‘lighting speed’ and the whole process was completed in the span of a day.

Justice Nagarathna, while noting that Bhushan was asking for the writ of quo warranto, asked as to which rule was violated.

Bhushan submitted that the appointment was done arbitrarily and the whole process was mala fide.

Justice Nagarathna pointed out that it might have been done in a tearing hurry, undue haste, but could it be a ground for quo warranto? What was the violation of the rule, it asked.

As per the Counsel, the appointment of Goel was in breach of Article 14 of the Constitution as the whole process was mala fide and there was no basis to cherry-pick only certain names, while omitting other eligible names.

Justice Joseph observed that there was a system prevailing for the appointment of Election Commissioners. The Advocate could not just rely on their verdict. 

The Supreme Court said what it was concerned with more was the process of appointment under the law as it stood then. 

Justice Nagarathna reiterated her concern on whether the appointment could be assailed when it was made as per the existing rules. 

Goel’s appointment further violated the principle of institutional integrity, which was invoked by the Supreme Court to quash the appointment of P.J. Thomas as the head of CVC, noted the Advocate.

The petition contended that the Union of India, while substantiating Goel’s appointment, had stated that since he was the youngest of the four persons on the panel prepared, he would have the longest tenure in the ECI. 

As per the plea, a deficient panel was deliberately created to justify the appointment of Goel on the ground of age. Further, there were 160 officers who belonged to the 1985 batch and some of them were younger than Goel. 

However, without any explanation as to why the officers who were younger in age than Goel and who would have a full tenure of six years as mandated by Section 4 of the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991 were not empaneled, the Government appointed Goel, it added.

(Case title: ADR vs UoI and Ors)

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