Supreme Court Reaches Issue of Blocking Appointment of Election Commissioners Amidst CEC Rajiv Kumar’s Sole Active Role in Polls

The appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is under scrutiny as a petition has been filed in the Supreme Court on Monday. The petitioner has argued that the government should be stopped from appointing the CEC and other election commissioners. Currently, there are two vacancies in the Election Commission (ECs) out of five. A meeting of the panel under the Prime Minister’s leadership to fill these vacancies could take place on March 13th or 14th.

Disagreement Between Rajiv Kumar and Arun Goyal

Rajiv Kumar is the only active member in the Election Commission currently. Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey retired in February. When Arun Goyal unexpectedly resigned on March 8th, which was accepted by President Droupadi Murmu on March 9th. According to the rules, there should be two election commissioners besides the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC).

Dispute between Rajiv Kumar and Arun Goyal

Arun Goyal was in line to become the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) as the current CEC, Rajiv Kumar, is set to retire in February 2025. Goyal assumed the position of Election Commissioner on November 21, 2022. His term was until December 5, 2027.

According to sources close to the Election Commission, there is a disagreement between Goyal and CEC Rajiv Kumar regarding a file. While Goyal has resigned citing personal reasons, there was an attempt by the center to prevent his resignation. Goyal’s health is also reportedly good, but his resignation has been stalled due to health reasons.

Allegations of Disagreement with Rajiv Kumar’s Resignation

The allegations published in the report state that Rajiv Kumar resigned due to disagreements, causing a delay in the preparations for the Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal. Goyal refused to attend a press conference in Kolkata to provide information about the election preparations in West Bengal.

Sources claim there were serious disagreements between the two. Following this, Rajiv Kumar held a solo press conference on March 5th, stating that Goyal had returned to Delhi due to poor health.

CEC Rajiv Kumar Stands Alone in the Three-Member Commission

After Arun Goyal’s resignation, only Rajiv Kumar remains in the three-member Election Commission. Earlier, Anup Pandey retired from the position of Election Commissioner on February 15. After Pandey’s retirement, one position in the Election Commission was vacant.

Goyal, a retired IAS officer from the Punjab cadre of the 1985 batch, had taken voluntary retirement from the post of Secretary (Heavy Industries) on November 18, 2022. A day later, he was appointed as Election Commissioner. Goyal has recently met officials from various states for election preparations. However, due to health reasons, he has been restricted in his travel.

Opposition’s Reaction to Goyal’s Resignation?

Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress President: Election Commission or Election Aftermath. Why is the Lok Sabha election coming first? If we do not prevent the destruction of independent institutions, democracy will be taken over by dictatorship.

Kapil Sibal, Congress Leader: The ECI is not as transparent as constitutional institutions should be. The central government exerts pressure on them. During the 2019 elections, then Commissioner Ashok Lavasa expressed disagreement over violating the Model Code of Conduct. Later, he had to face constant questioning.

Arun Goyal’s Appointment Matter Goes to Supreme Court

The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) had filed a petition in the Supreme Court regarding Arun Goyal’s appointment as Election Commissioner. Even before the elections, two justices, K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna, recused themselves from the hearing.

ADR argued in the petition that Goyal’s appointment was not in accordance with the rules. Furthermore, his appointment to the Election Commission also violates its institutional independence. ADR accused the government and the Election Commission of appointing Goyal for their own benefit. A demand was made to revoke Goyal’s appointment.

Appointment of New Commissioners

The law for the appointment of CEC and ECs was amended on December 29, 2023. According to this, a Search Committee comprising the Law Minister and two Central Secretaries will shortlist five names and submit them to the Selection Committee. The three-member committee, including the Prime Minister, a Central Minister, and the opposition leader or the largest opposition party leader, will finalize the names. After the President’s approval, the appointments will be made.

Lavasa Resigned After the 2019 Elections

Ashok Lavasa resigned from the post of Election Commissioner in August 2020. He had resigned from the post of Election Commissioner after the 2019 general elections. He had expressed disagreement over several decisions of the Election Commission violating the Model Code of Conduct during the 2019 general elections.

Niyati Rao

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