NEW DELHI, Nov 23 (PTI): The Supreme Court asked the Centre on Wednesday to produce before it the file related to the appointment of Election Commissioner Arun Goel, who was appointed on November 19.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice K M Joseph said it wants to know whether there was any “hanky panky” in Goel’s appointment as election commissioner as he was only recently given voluntary retirement from service.
The bench rejected the objections of Attorney General (AG) R Venkataramani to the court willing to see the file related to Goel’s appointment while the hearing is on.
Venkataramani told the bench, also comprising justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar, that it is dealing with the larger issue of appointment of ECs and the chief election commissioner (CEC) and it cannot look at an individual case flagged by advocate Prashant Bhushan.
“I take serious objection to this and have my reservation to the court seeing the file amidst the hearing of a Constitution bench,” he said.
The bench said it started hearing a batch of pleas seeking a collegium-like system for the appointment of ECs and the CEC last Thursday and Goel was appointed as an EC subsequently on November 19. Therefore, it wants to see what prompted the step.
“We want to see what the mechanism is. We will not treat it as an adversarial and keep it for our record, but we want to know as you claim that everything is hunky dory. Since we were hearing the matter and appointment was made amidst, this may be interlinked. You have time till tomorrow. Produce the documents,” it told the AG.
At the outset, Bhushan, who appeared on behalf of petitioner Anoop Baranwal and made his rejoinder submission, said after the court started hearing the matter, the government hurriedly appointed an election commissioner.
“This election commissioner was, till Thursday, working as a secretary-level officer in the government. Suddenly, he was given VRS on Friday and appointed as an election commissioner,” Bhushan said.
Justice Joseph said as far he recalls, it takes three months for a person to get voluntary retirement.
On November 19, Goel, a 1985-batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the Punjab cadre, was appointed as an election commissioner.
He was to retire on December 31 on attaining the age of 60 years.
Once he assumes his new role, Goel would be in line to be the next CEC after incumbent Rajiv Kumar demits office in February 2025.
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.