The government on Thursday appointed former IAS officers Gyanesh Kumar and Sukhbir Sandhu as the new election commissioners.

“In exercise of powers conferred by section 4 of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023 (Act No 49 of 2023), the President is pleased to appoint Gyanesh Kumar, IAS (Retd) and Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, IAS (Retd) as Election Commissioners in the Election Commission of India, with effect from the date they assume charge of their office,” a government notification said.

Kumar is a retired bureaucrat of the Kerala cadre and Sandhu worked as an officer of the Uttarakhand cadre. Both of them are officers of the 1988 batch.

Kumar served as the Secretary of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and later as Secretary in the Ministry of Cooperation. Sandhu has served as the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand.

The two former bureaucrats were chosen by a panel chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and included Union Home Minister Amit Shah and leader of Congress party in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury as members.

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Congress alleges bias

Earlier in the day, speaking with reporters after the meeting, Chowdhury said that he was not given ample time to study the 212 shortlisted officers whose names were shared with him.

“Early on, before attending the meeting, I had asked the Law Ministry for a short list (of officers). I was given 212 names last night. How will I study so many names? Ten minutes before the meeting, I was given a shortlist of 6 names,” he said.

The six names shortlisted were that of Utpal Kumar Singh, Pradeep Kumar Tripathi, Gyanesh Kumar, Indevar Pandey, Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, Sudhir Kumar Gangadhar Rahate, all former bureaucrats.

“Of the six names, the names of Gyanesh Kumar and Sukhbir Singh Sandhu were finalised for appointment as election commissioners,” Chowdhury said.

“Another issue, in this committee, there is the Prime Minister, two ministers and the leader of the Opposition. They (government) already have a majority here,” he added.

The meeting to decide the names was a mere formality, claimed Chowdhury.

The congress leader further said that he had given a dissent note, questioning the selection procedure.

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.

The selection of the two officers a day before the Supreme Court is set to hear the petitions challenging the selection process.

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According to the current procedure, 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 with a Union Minister. The change has tilted the process in the favour of the Centre.

The current process of selection has been challenged in the Supreme Court and the matter will come up for hearing tomorrow.