Arun Goel | Controversial Commissioner 

The 1985-batch IAS officer, who took voluntary retirement as Secretary, Ministry of Heavy Industries, was appointed an Election Commissioner a day later

November 27, 2022 02:11 am | Updated 12:15 pm IST

Arun Goel, a former Punjab-cadre IAS officer of the 1985 batch, was scheduled to retire as Secretary, Ministry of Heavy Industries, on December 31. However, barely six weeks ahead of his superannuation, Mr. Goel sought voluntary retirement from service (VRS) and it was approved on November 18. The next day, he was appointed an Election Commissioner, filling the vacancy that was created by the retirement of Sushil Chandra.

“The President is pleased to appoint Arun Goel, IAS (Retd.) as the Election Commissioner in the Election Commission with effect from the date he assumes the office,” announced Kiren Rijiju, the Union Law and Justice Minister, on Twitter.

In line to be EC

In the Election Commission of India, which conducts the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, Mr. Goel will be in line to be the next Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) when the incumbent, Rajiv Kumar, retires in February 2025. Mr. Goel will be in office till December 2027.

Before he was moved from the Ministry of Heavy Industries, Mr. Goel served as Secretary, Culture from May 2018 to December 2019. In over a decade at the Centre in various posts, Mr. Goel served as Joint Secretary in the Department of Revenue, a coveted post for any IAS officer, and then as Vice-Chairman of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule.

However, he was shunted out from the DDA over alleged differences with the Ministry of Urban Affairs, which exercises the administrative control over the authority. According to several officials who worked with him, Mr. Goel is a “nice, soft-spoken and polite” officer who does not let anyone gauge what is going on in his mind. After the BJP government came to power in 2014, he served the Ministry of Labour as Additional Secretary and Financial Adviser and was empanelled as Secretary in the second review.

“By the time he was empanelled as Secretary, many of his batch-mates were already posted as Secretaries in various departments or Ministries because they were empanelled much earlier in the first round,” a retired secretary told The Hindu.

Talent spotted

Following his empanelment, he was posted as the Secretary of Culture. It’s during this assignment that he apparently showcased his talent and work in conceptualising Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, a Government of India campaign that was planned to celebrate the 75 years of India’s independence.

In fact, as Secretary of Culture, Mr. Goel had extensive meetings and conversations with members of various committees of the Ministry and members closely connected with the RSS and its affiliates. He also pushed the idea of bringing up the contribution of unsung heroes of the Freedom Movement — which found favour with the top minds in the government — in the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. He also worked with the revamping of various museums and other institutions that are under the administrative control of the Ministry of Culture.

From January 1, 2020, Mr. Goel took over as Secretary, Heavy Industries. Here, according to his home page on the Election Commission site, “he catalysed the e-vehicle movement in India to a tipping point. He implemented the PLI [production-linked incentives] scheme for the auto industry in record time, getting investments worth ₹67,690 crore against a target of ₹42,500 crore”.

His appointment to the EC has triggered a bunch of petitions at the Supreme Court’s five-judge Constitution Bench. The judges have questioned the Centre about its “tearing hurry” to process Mr. Goel’s file in less than 24 hours and called for the entire file and records regarding the appointment.

However, Justice K.M. Joseph also added: “We are only on the process of selection, not on any individual... In fact we notice that this person who is selected is a gold medallist in mathematics and brilliant academic record he has.”

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