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regular-article-logo Saturday, 25 May 2024

Two new ECs appointed, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury raises dissent

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury says he was not given dossiers on the candidates, and not even the shortlist, before Thursday’s meeting

Pheroze L. Vincent New Delhi Published 15.03.24, 05:29 AM
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. File Photo

Two former bureaucrats who held key posts under BJP governments were appointed election commissioners on Thursday, with the Opposition member on the selection panel complaining he was kept in the dark about the candidates' credentials.

Former Union cooperation secretary Gyanesh Kumar and former Lokpal secretary Sukhbir Sandhu join the poll panel when it is poised to announce the Lok Sabha polls.

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The Congress’s leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, submitted a dissent note to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led selection committee saying he was not given dossiers on the candidates, and not even the shortlist, before Thursday’s meeting.

"I gave a dissent note because I was given 212 names at midnight. When I go to the meeting I see six names. How is it possible for me to know about these people?" he told reporters.

Gyanesh Kumar was a joint secretary in the Jammu and Kashmir division of the Union home ministry when the then state was stripped of its special status and bifurcated into two Union Territories.

He was later additional secretary of the desk that handled the outcome of the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict and the formation of a trust to build a Ram temple at the spot where the Babri Masjid was razed in 1992. He retired in January.

Just as chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar was resident commissioner of Jharkhand, Gyanesh Kumar was resident commissioner of Kerala. He drew flak for stopping the sale of buffalo meat in the Kerala House canteen in 2014 — a decision rescinded on the orders of then chief minister Oommen Chandy after protests by patrons.

Sandhu was appointed Uttarakhand chief secretary by BJP chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami as soon as he came to power in 2021. Before that, Sandhu was chairman of the National Highways Authority of India.

A qualified doctor and a lawyer, he was given an extension until January this year, after which he was appointed secretary to the Lokpal.

The three-member Election Commission of India found itself with two vacancies in the run-up to the general election with Anup Pandey retiring last month and Arun Goel quitting for unexplained reasons last week.

Under a new law, a search committee headed by the law minister shortlists five names for each vacancy. The selection is done by a committee of the Prime Minister, a minister nominated by the PM — it was reportedly home minister Amit Shah on Thursday — and the leader of the Opposition or largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha.

Chowdhury said he was given a long list of eligible bureaucrats when he arrived in Delhi around midnight.

“It is known that the government can choose who it wants, but no procedure was followed even in that,” he told reporters after the meeting, which had started around noon.

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