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Election commissioner who resigned would have soon led EC

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NEW DELHI: Days before Election Commission is due to announce Lok Sabha general elections, election commissioner Arun Goel has resigned, reducing the

poll panel

to a single-member body with Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar.
The resignation – that left many raised eyebrows as no official reason was given – was accepted by President Droupadi Murmu. A copy of the resignation was not shared with CEC Kumar, TOI has learned.

There are indications that govt may move soon to fill up vacancies of the two election commissioners. Another election commissioner, Anoop Chandra Pandey, had retired last month after turning 65.
Goel’s decision came as a complete surprise to sources in the commission as he had looked set to travel to Jammu & Kashmir on March 12 to hold a final review of poll preparations in states/UTs.
Incidentally, Article 324 of Constitution allows EC to have a single member. “The Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix,” it states. However, the panel has never been a single-member body since 1993.

Goel took over as election commissioner on November 21, 2022.

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Goel was next in line for CEC, would have led EC till December 2027
Arun Goel appointment was mired in controversy as it came barely 24 hours after he took voluntary retirement from government. It was challenged in SC, first as part of a plea seeking an independent mechanism for appointment of CEC and election commissioners, and then by way of a separate petition filed by senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan. The constitution bench hearing the first petition had called for the file relating to Goel’s appointment in EC but refrained from commenting on the merits of his appointment. In the second case, SC cited the stand taken by the constitution bench and dismissed the petition.

Goel would have succeeded Kumar as CEC by the seniority principle and headed EC until December 2027. Goel’s record as a bureaucrat does show up a history of short-lived tenures, first as DDA vice-chairman and subsequently as secretary, culture. The latter was considered an important assignment given that it coincided with the culture ministry’s preparations for Amrit Mahotsav. Goel’s assignment at the time of voluntary retirement was as secretary, heavy industries, which, too, is not considered a very significant posting.
For govt, Goel’s exit puts a question mark on its choices for EC as this is the second election commissioner in less than four years to quit prior to taking over as CEC. In 2020, then election commissioner Ashok Lavasa – whose family members were under the income tax department’s scanner – had resigned citing his appointment as vice-president of Asian Development Bank. This, incidentally, came in the wake of him having dissented in EC’s decisions giving clean chits to PM Modi in cases of alleged model code violations.

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