Plea filed in SC by Congress leader to restrain govt from appointing election commissioner

Congress leader Dr Jaya Thakur filed an application in the Supreme Court on March 11 seeking to restrain the government from appointing a new Election Commissioner to fill the position vacated by Arun Goel a couple of days ago.

The SC responded that it would consider submission for early listing of the petition. “Send an email. We will see,” said the bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices JB Pardiwla and Manoj Misra.

The plea seeks directions to immediately appoint the member as per a March 2023 Constitution Bench order that required the appointment of top EC officials to be done by President on the advice of a panel comprising PM, Leader of Opposition (LoP) and the CJI. Thakur’s PIL challenges the validity of the Chief Election Commissioner and the other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Condition of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023.

The 2023 law’s provisions have been challenged in the apex court.

“That petitioner most respectfully submitted that in view of facts that election for Lok Sabha Election 2024 may be announced shortly, therefore appointment of member of new election commissioners is required immediately, for that this court has given clear verdict in the case of ‘Anoop Baranwal Versus Union of India’ (March 2, 2023 verdict) about the appointment process…,” the plea read.

“It is, therefore, most respectfully prayed that this Court may graciously be pleased to direct the respondents to immediately appoint the member election commission of India, as per verdict/judgments passed by this court in the case of Anoop Baranwal Versus Union of India…,” it added.

News agency PTI had reported earlier that two election commissioners were likely to be appointed by March 15 to fill the vacancies created by the retirement of Anup Chandra Pandey and the surprise resignation of Goel.

A committee under Law Minister Arjun Meghwal and comprising the Home Secretary and the Department of Personnel and Training Secretary was supposed to prepare two separate panels of five names each for the two posts. Thereafter, a selection panel headed by the PM and comprising a Union minister and Leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha were to name two persons for the two posts.

Goel quit his post on March 9, leaving the Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar alone in the saddle at the poll watchdog. Goel, a former bureaucrat, was appointed as Election Commissioner in 2022.

As per an ET report, Goel’s move was preceded by differences with the chief election commissioner. The issues seem to have escalated recently following Anup Pandey’s retirement on February 15, it said.

It may be noted here that Pandey had retired just days before Goel’s sudden announcement, leaving a vacancy in the poll panel.

According to an official statement from the Ministry of Law and Justice: “In pursuance of clause (1) of Section 11 of The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023, the President is pleased to accept the resignation tendered by Shri Arun Goel, Election Commissioner with effect from the 09th March, 2024”.

As per the new law, “Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a Selection Committee consisting of — (a) the Prime Minister — Chairperson; (b) the Leader of Opposition in the House of the People — Member; (c) a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister — Member.”

The opposition has accused Modi govt defying the top court by dropping the CJI from the selection panel.

The Election Commission of India, for most of the past three decades, has been a three-member panel. There have only been two aberrations (1999 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections) when polls were overseen by just two members because of a members’ retirement in the middle of the poll cycle.

The election commission originally used to have just a chief commissioner. Two additional commissioners were first appointed on October 16, 1989, and thereafter, on October 1, 1993. Since then, the commission has been functioning in a multi-member format, with decisions taken by a majority vote.

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