PREVIOUS S.E.C. JS SANDHU’s TENURE COMPLETED IN DEC, 2021 HOWEVER THEN CHANNI GOVT DIDN’T APPOINTED HIS SUCCESSOR
BHAGWANT MANN GOVT ALSO YET TO TAKE A CALL ON NEW S.E.C. IN PAST 8 MONTHS
CHANDIGARH – On Monday Nov 21, Arun Goel, an erstwhile Punjab Cadre IAS officer of 1985 batch assumed charge as (second) Election Commissioner (EC) in the Election Commission of India (ECI).
Goel, who was on Central Deputation since past decade and was otherwise scheduled to superannuate next month on Dec 31, however took Voluntary Retirement from IAS recently on Nov 18 and the very next day on Nov 19, he was appointed by the President of India to the coveted post of EC.
However as far as the constitutional post of State Election Commissioner (SEC) in the State of Punjab is concerned, the same has been lying vacant since close to a year or past eleven months to be precise.
Meanwhile, an Advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court, Hemant Kumar, has sent a legal notice to the State of Punjab for inordinate delay being witnessed in the appointment of new SEC, Punjab, a post provided under Article(s) 243K and 243ZA of Constitution of India and which is also having statutory sanctity under Punjab State Election Commission (PSEC) Act, 1994.
The Advocate asserted that as per Section 4 of PSEC Act, 1994, the Governor (of the State of Punjab) shall, by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint an officer of the State Government not below the age of 55 years and of the rank of Financial Commissioner, or the Principal Secretary to the State Government having service as such for a minimum period of two years or a serving or retired Judge of the High Court as (State) Election Commissioner.
It has been further provided in the ibid 1994 Act that no Officer, who has attained such age of superannuation, as may from time to time be fixed by the State Government, shall be appointed as SEC. Further, the SEC shall hold office for a term of five years from the date he assumes his office. However, where such (appointed) person as SEC attains the age of 65 years before the expiry of the said term of five years, he shall vacate his office on the date on which he attains the said age.
Pertinent to mention that till date six retired IAS Officers viz. S/Sh. Manmohan Singh, CD Cheema, CL Bains, AK Dubey, SS Brar and Jagpal Singh Sandhu have been appointed as SEC, Punjab from time to time. Interestingly, all of the above six were appointed as SEC when they were still in IAS with a few months of service left. It is provided in Section 8 of PSEC Act, 1994 that a person, who immediately before the date of assuming office as SEC was in the service of the State Government, shall be deemed to have retired from that service on the date on which he assumes office as SEC.
Be that as it may, close to a year has passed since the previous SEC, Punjab Jagpal Singh Sandhu, who was appointed as such in Dec, 2016 completed his tenure of 5 years in Dec, 2021 however the post has not been filled for the reasons best known to the State Government of Punjab.
Hemant said that it was the duty of the then Charanjit Singh Channi led Congress dispensation which was in power in the State of Punjab during Dec, 2021 to appoint a successor to previous incumbent Jagpal Singh Sandhu, however it did not. Pertinent that the Model Code of Conduct was however imposed in the State of Punjab with effect from Jan 8, 2022 with the announcement of Poll Schedule for General Elections to 16th Punjab Legislative Assembly by Election Commission of India. Hence before ibid date, the then Charanjit Channi Government was very much competent to appoint Sandhu’s successor.
If appointed, such SEC would have continued till Dec, 2026 or till his age of 65 years, whichever was earlier, notwithstanding the change of guard in the State of Punjab in March, 2022 since under Article 243 K of Constitution of India, SEC shall not be removed from his office except in like manner and on the like ground as a Judge of a High Court and the conditions of service of SEC shall not be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment.
Furthermore, the current Bhagwant Mann led AAP Government which assumed reins of power in the State of Punjab with effect from March 16, 2022 has not taken a call in this regard i.e. has not appointed a new SEC, Punjab in the past eight months of its tenure till date.
Hemant opines that since the SEC is a constitutional post, hence it ought not to be kept vacant for such a long period. It also amounts to violation of constitutional provisions by the State Government of Punjab.
The Advocate says that in the event of any further inordinate delay, he would be compelled to file an appropriate Writ Petition/Public Interest Litigation before the Hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court in this regard.