NEW DELHI: In the latest ruling on August 4, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition that contested the appointment of Arun Goel as Election Commissioner.
The Bench, led by Justice Sanjiv Khanna, refused to entertain the petition filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and pointed out that an earlier Constitution Bench of the court had already examined and upheld Goel's appointment.
The ruling from the Constitution Bench, given in March, stipulated that the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners should be appointed by the President based on recommendations from a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, or the leader of the single largest party in Opposition, and the Chief Justice of India. The five-judge Bench emphasized the need for "honest, independent" Commissioners who can distinguish right from wrong, and who have the courage to stand up against the powerful and remain committed to the path of righteousness.
Justice Khanna highlighted that the March judgment only applies prospectively and may not be relevant to Goel's case, as his appointment was already finalized before the pronouncement of the Constitution Bench verdict.
Representing ADR, Advocates Prashant Bhushan and Cheryl D’Souza argued that the entire selection process leading to Goel's appointment as Election Commissioner was completed within a single day between November 18 and November 19 of the previous year.
The swift filling of the vacancy had raised concerns as the Constitution Bench had just begun hearing the matter at that time. Bhushan contended that the appointment was arbitrary, and it undermined the institutional integrity and independence of the Election Commission of India, which is protected under Article 14 and Article 324(2) of the Constitution of India, as well as Section 4 of the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991.
Goel, who was due to retire on December 31, 2022, had been claimed by the government to be the youngest among the four shortlisted candidates. However, the petitioner alleged that there were 160 officers from the 1985 batch who were younger than him.
The petition pointed out the lack of explanation as to why officers younger than Goel were not empaneled, even though they would have fulfilled the mandated six-year tenure as required by Section 4 of the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991.
Bhushan raised concerns about the "foregone conclusion" aspect of the selection process, especially as Goel had applied for voluntary retirement on November 18 before any official announcement of his appointment.
According to the petition, Goel's appointment did not comply with the requirement of a complete tenure of six years, as outlined in Section 4 of the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991.
Bhushan argued that the arbitrary nature of the selection procedure has compromised Goel's ability to discharge his duties as Election Commissioner impartially, leaving him indebted to the Union of India for their acts of favoritism, and ultimately affecting the independence and institutional integrity of the Election Commission of India.