Supreme Court Asks Centre To Produce Files Related To Appointment Of Arun Goel As Election Commissioner

A Supreme Court constitutional bench said Wednesday it wants to see files related to the recent nomination of Arun Goel, a former bureaucrat, as election commissioner on Nov. 19.

The bench, which handles petitions seeking an independent mechanism to appoint election commissioners, noted that it would have been appropriate if the appointment had not been made when the case was heard. The court asked the attorney general to submit the files tomorrow.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushanappearing before the petitioner argued that Arun Goel voluntarily retired on Thursday and his appointment was announced within two days.

“Mr Arun Goel’s latest appointment was made by allowing him to retire voluntarily. All who have been appointed as Election Commissioners are pensioners. But he was a sitting secretary in the government. On Thursday, this court heard the arguments “Friday he voluntarily pension. His notice of appointment was issued on Saturday or Sunday. And on Monday he started working,” Bhushan said. He added that the post had been vacant since May and that he had applied for preliminary injunctions against any appointments.

“So what process? So what procedure? You can blast through his VRS in one day!” said Bhushan.

Justice KM Joseph, who heads the Constitution Bench, said that normally for VRS the employee has to give 3 months notice. Bhushan replied that he doubted whether the notification has been made. “That is why the court must request the documents,” the lawyer insisted.

Attorney General for India R Venkataramani objected to Goel’s nomination being placed “side by side” in this case where the court is considering a larger issue. “I strongly oppose it,” AG said adding that there is “no design” behind the appointment as projected by Bhushan.

In response, Judge Joseph said, “We heard the case last Thursday. At that stage, Mr. Bhushan said that there is an interim application. Then the next hearing will take place yesterday. Therefore, we want you to read the files related to the appointment of this officer. So that if you are right, as you claim, that there is no handkerchief, then there is nothing to fear.”

Judge Joseph said the Court would like to know what the mechanism followed is.

“What is the mechanism by which this officer was arrested, Mr. Attorney General? Can it be done when the case was heard by this court? The appointment was made when the case was heard by this court. When there is an application against the appointment, when the case is heard by the Constitutional Court, it would have been more appropriate…” said Judge Joseph.

The Attorney General stated that there was no injunction against the appointments. In response, Judge Joseph said, “There was no such order. But the application was there. Anyway, let that go. We are not judging the appointment. But we would like to know. This will be an eye opener . If everything is hunky-dory, everything went smoothly as you claim, you have nothing to fear”, Justice Joseph.

“We are only asking you to provide the files unless you have a legitimate objection,” Judge Joseph told the AG, who protested.

“Seeing that will be an advantage to you, if there is due process,” Judge Joseph added. “We would like to have those (the files),” the judge added.

“This is a case where the order of appointment is made after we start the hearing, when there is a request not to make the appointment. So the case is seized,” Judge Joseph said.

When the Attorney General continued to voice his reservations, Judge Joseph told him, “This is not hostility. This is out of our curiosity. We just want to see the circumstances”.

Judge Hrishikesh Roy, another member of the 5-judge court, told the AG he may be “overseeing the mind of the court”.

“We don’t think it’s an issue where you should withhold information. We live in an open democracy,” Judge Joseph told the AG.

From yesterday’s hearing – Neutral Body to Appoint Election Commissioner | “Presence of the Chief Justice on the Appointments Committee would be the best system”: Justice Joseph

Case title: Anoop Baranwal v. Union of India | WP(C) No. 104/2015

Click here to read/download the order

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