Adhir Ranjan Unveils New Election Commissioners: Ex-IAS Officers Gyanesh and Sukhbir as EC; 6 Names Assigned Last Minute

The panel chaired by the Prime Minister met on Thursday to finalize the names of the two new Election Commissioners. Following this, opposition leader Adhir Ranjan spoke to the media, revealing that the names of former IAS officers Gyanesh Kumar and Sukhbir Sandhu have been proposed.

Sukhbir Sandhu has previously served as the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand and as the Chairman of NHAI. On the other hand, Gyanesh Kumar is an IAS officer from the 1988 batch of Kerala cadre, having served in the Ministry of Home Affairs. 

During the decision-making process on Article 370, they were serving in the Home Ministry. However, the announcement of the appointments to the Election Commission has not been made yet. It will be finalized after President Droupadi Murmu’s approval.

Adhir Ranjan Expresses Discontent over Selection Process

Adhir Ranjan expressed dissatisfaction, stating that last night, the list of 212 names was handed over. He expressed displeasure that 6 names were presented to him just 10 minutes before the start of the meeting. He remarked that it is impossible for him to verify the authenticity and experience of each candidate within such a short time frame. 

He protested against this process, calling it informal. He remarked that if the Chief Justice of India were involved, the matter would be different. Last night, when he arrived in Delhi, he was tasked with reviewing the profiles of 212 individuals. However, it was impractical to check each profile in such a short time.

Anup Chandra Pandey retired from the Election Commission in February. Additionally, Arun Goel unexpectedly resigned on the morning of March 8, which was accepted by President Droupadi Murmu on March 9. Therefore, currently, the Election Commission consists of only Rajiv Kumar as the Chief Election Commissioner, with 3 vacancies in the Commission.

Disagreement Between Rajiv Kumar and Arun Goel

Disagreement Between Rajiv Kumar and Arun Goel

Arun Goel was in line to become the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) as the current CEC, Rajiv Kumar, is scheduled to retire in February 2025. Goel took over as a Commissioner on November 21, 2022. His term was supposed to last until December 5, 2027.

According to sources close to the Election Commission, there is a disagreement between Goel and CEC Rajiv Kumar. While Goel has tendered his resignation, he has indicated personal reasons for stepping down. 

However, the center has attempted to persuade him to reconsider his resignation. Goel’s health is also reported to be fine, suggesting that his resignation is not due to health concerns.

Former Election Commissioners Arun Goyal and Anoop Pandey with CEC Rajeev Kumar. - File photo

Resignation Amidst Dispute with Rajiv Kumar

According to reports published in The Hindu, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar and Election Commissioner Arun Goel had disagreements over the preparations for the Lok Sabha elections, leading to Goel’s resignation. Goel refused to attend a press conference in Kolkata to provide information related to the preparations in West Bengal.

Sources suggest that there were serious differences between the two. Subsequently, on March 5, Rajiv Kumar held a solo press conference and stated that Goel had returned to Delhi due to ill health.

After Arun Goel’s resignation, only Rajiv Kumar remains as the Chief Election Commissioner among the three members of the Election Commission. Previously, Anup Pandey retired from the position of Election Commissioner on February 15. After Pandey’s retirement, one position in the Election Commission remained vacant.

Goel is a retired IAS officer of the 1985 batch from the Punjab cadre. He took Voluntary Retirement Service (VRS) from the position of Secretary (Heavy Industries) on November 18, 2022. A day later, he was appointed as an Election Commissioner.

Opposition’s Response to Goel’s Resignation

Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress President: “Whether it’s the Election Commission or post-election, the Lok Sabha election has come to this point, why? If we don’t prevent the destruction of independent institutions, democracy will be usurped by authoritarianism.”

K.C. Venugopal, Congress Leader: “The Election Commission of India (ECI) is not as transparent as it should be. The central government exerts pressure on them. During the 2019 elections, then-Commissioner Ashok Lavasa expressed dissent regarding the violation of the Model Code of Conduct by Prime Minister Modi. Later, he faced constant questioning.”

Kapil Sibal, Rajya Sabha MP: “I cannot speculate on the reason for Goel’s resignation, but there are visible disagreements. They (BJP) will now push their people into the Commission, as they have done before. Now, the timeline for elections, deadlines, and all allocations will be made according to the interests of the ruling party.”

Goel’s Appointment Challenged in Supreme Court

The NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) had filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the appointment of Arun Goelccccc as Election Commissioner. Even before the hearing, two justices, Justice KM Joseph and Justice BV Nagarathna, recused themselves from the case.

ADR argued in its petition that Goel’s appointment does not comply with the law. Furthermore, they claimed that his appointment as Election Commissioner violates the institutional independence of the Election Commission. 

ADR accused the government and the Election Commission of appointing Arun Goel for their own interests. They also demanded the cancellation of Goel’s appointment.

Appointment of New Commissioners

The appointment process for the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (EC) has been revised as of December 29, 2023. According to the new rules, a Search Committee comprising the Law Minister and two Chief Secretaries will shortlist five names and present them to the Selection Committee. 

This Selection Committee will consist of the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister, and the leader of the opposition or the leader of the largest opposition party. After the President’s approval, the appointments will be made.

Resignation After the 2019 Elections

Ashok Lavasa resigned from his position as Election Commissioner in August 2020. He stepped down from the post of Election Commissioner after dissenting from several decisions of the Election Commission during the 2019 general elections, citing violations of the Model Code of Conduct.

Niyati Rao

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