Thursday, February 22, 2024

Supreme Court directs Centre to put on record documents related to appointment of Arun Goel as Election Commissioner

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre to produce the documents related to the appointment of former bureaucrat Arun Goel, who was serving as Heavy Industries Secretary till November 18 and was appointed as the Election Commissioner on November 21.  

The directions were issued by a five-Judge Constitution Bench of Justice K.M. Joseph, Justice Ajay Rastogi, Justice Aniruddha Bose, Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice C.T. Ravikumar, while hearing petitions seeking an independent mechanism to appoint Election Commissioners.

The Apex Court, while observing that it would have been appropriate had the appointment not been made when the matter was being heard, directed Attorney General R. Venkataramani to produce the required files tomorrow.

Representing the petitioner, Advocate Prashant Bhushan submitted that Goel took Voluntary Retirement from Service on Friday (November 18), he was appointed as the next Election Commissioner on Saturday and took charge on Monday.

As per the Counsel, those appointed as Election Commissioners were retired people. However, in case of Goel, he was a sitting Secretary in the Government. Bhushan said the Apex Court conducted hearing in the case on November 17 (Thursday). On Friday, Goel was given voluntary retirement. His appointment order was issued on Saturday and on Monday, he took charge, he added.

As per the Advocate, the post had been lying vacant since May. Bhushan said he had filed an application seeking interim orders against the appointment. Questioning the process and procedure in the appointment, he alleged that in one day, the government rushed through Goel’s VRS.

Justice Joseph observed that normally for VRS, the employee must give three months notice. 

Stating that he was doubtful whether a notice was even given in this case, Bhushan urged the Apex Court to ask the government for records.   

Strongly opposing the objections raised against the appointment, Attorney General R. Venkataramani alleged that Goel’s appointment was being ‘juxtaposed’ into a case, where the Apex Court was considering a larger issue. He asserted that there was no design in the appointment.

Justice Joseph noted that this Court had heard the case last Thursday (November 17). At that stage, Bhushan had said that there was an interim application. The next hearing took place yesterday. Therefore, the Centre should bring the files on record related to the appointment of this officer. 

The Bench noted that if the Centre was right, as it claimed, then there was nothing to fear. 

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