2 Poll Commissioners Picked, Congress Says 6 Names, 10 Mins Before Meet

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New Delhi:

Bureaucrats Sukhbir Singh Sandhu and Gyanesh Kumar have been chosen for the two vacant posts in the top panel of Election Commission of India, Congress’s leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told the media this afternoon.

Mr Chowdhury was part of the panel chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to select two Election Commissioners to assist Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar as the poll body prepares for the upcoming Lok Sabha election. Besides the Prime Minister and Mr Chowdhury, Union Home Minister Amit Shah was on the panel.

The Congress leader hit out at the Centre over the law that replaced the Chief Justice of India by a Union Minister on the selection committee. “The Chief Justice of India should have been on this committee,” he said, adding that the law brought last year had reduced the meeting to a “formality”. “The government is in the majority on the panel. What they want happens.”

The Congress leader said he was given 212 names for scrutiny last night. “I had asked for a shortlist so that I can examine the candidates. But I did not get that opportunity. I reached Delhi at midnight and the meeting was at noon today. I was given 212 names, how can someone examine so many candidates in a day? Ten minutes before the meeting, I was given a shortlist of 6 names,” he said.

“It was fait accompli that the chosen two will be selected. However, I tried to intervene in an appropriate manner so as to bolster the institution. That’s why, before my arrival in Delhi, I sought a shortlist. They gave me a list of all candidates, numbering 212. Now you can imagine if, in a single night, it is humanly possible for me to examine 212 names and find out the most competent person among them,” he said.

The Congress leader said he had given a dissent note, questioning the procedure of selection.

Mr Chowdhury also referred to Arun Goel’s resignation as Election Commissioner, which has sparked a row. “When Mr 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.

Mr Sandhu and Mr Kumar are retired IAS officers of the 1988 batch. While Mr Sandhu is from the Uttarakhand cadre of IAS, Mr Kumar is from the Kerala cadre.

Mr Sandhu has earlier held key government positions, including the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand and chairman of the National Highways Authority of India. Mr Kumar has served as secretary in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and the Amit Shah-led Ministry of Cooperation.

The two officers have been chosen for the Election Commissioner posts a day before the Supreme Court hears petitions challenging the selection process.

In the current process, a search committee led by the Law Minister prepares a shortlist. Then, a selection panel led by the Prime Minister and comprising the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and a Union Minister makes the final choice.

The Supreme Court had in March last year ruled that the panel must have the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha. But the Centre thereafter brought a law to replace the Chief Justice by a Union Minister. The change has tilted the process in the favour of the Centre.

The Association for Democratic Reforms and Congress leader Jaya Thakur have challenged the process in Supreme Court and the matter will be heard tomorrow.

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