14 Mar 2024

Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, Gyanesh Kumar appointed Election Commissioners; Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury submits dissent note

Bureaucrats Sukhbir Singh Sandhu and Gyanesh Kumar have been selected to fill the two vacant positions in the top panel of the Election Commission of India, as disclosed by Congress leader in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, during a media briefing today.

Chowdhury was a part of the panel chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tasked with selecting two Election Commissioners to support Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar in preparation for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections-2024. Alongside the Prime Minister and  Chowdhury, Union Home Minister Amit Shah also sat on the panel.

'Govt is in the majority on the panel'

Expressing discontent, the Congress leader criticized the law that replaced the Chief Justice of India with a Union Minister on the selection committee. He emphasized that the Chief Justice of India should have retained a position on the committee, stating that the amendment had rendered the committee's meetings merely formalities. He further highlighted the imbalance of power within the panel, stating, "The government is in the majority on the panel. What they want happens."

'List of 212 names was given for scrutiny only the previous night'

Chowdhury revealed that he was provided with a list of 212 names for scrutiny the previous night but was not given adequate time to review the candidates thoroughly. Despite his request for a shortlist to streamline the process, he was only presented with a list of six names ten minutes before the meeting. He asserted that it was evident from the beginning that the two candidates had already been chosen, but he attempted to intervene in a manner conducive to strengthening the institution.

Addressing the selection process, Chowdhury raised concerns about its fairness and transparency, submitting a dissent note questioning the procedure of selection.

Chowdhury also referred to Arun Goel's resignation as Election Commissioner, which has sparked a row. "When Goel was appointed, the Supreme Court had made a 'lightning speed' remark. He came with a lightning speed and left with digital speed," he said.

Both ECs are retired IAS officers

Sukhbir Singh Sandhu and Gyanesh Kumar, both retired IAS officers from the 1988 batch, were chosen for the Election Commissioner roles. Sandhu hails from the Uttarakhand cadre of IAS, while Kumar is from the Kerala cadre. 

Sandhu has previously served in prominent government positions, including Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand and chairman of the National Highways Authority of India, whereas Kumar has held positions such as secretary in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and the Ministry of Cooperation under Amit Shah's leadership.

The selection of these officers occurred a day before the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear petitions challenging the selection process.

Under the current process, a search committee led by the Law Minister prepares a shortlist, followed by a selection panel led by the Prime Minister, which includes the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and a Union Minister, making the final decision.

Balance of power skewed in favor of Centre

The Supreme Court had previously ruled that the panel must include the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, and the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha. However, subsequent legislation replaced the Chief Justice with a Union Minister, skewing the balance of power in favor of the Centre.

The Association for Democratic Reforms and Congress leader Jaya Thakur have contested the process in the Supreme Court, with the matter scheduled for hearing the following day.

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