Vijayawada: The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Friday set aside the appointment of Justice (retd) V Kanagaraj as the State Election Commissioner (SEC) and reinstated his predecessor N Ramesh Kumar whose tenure was cut short by the Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy government following his decision to postpone the local bodies elections in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
A division bench comprising chief justice J K Maheshwari and justice M Satyanarayana Murthy struck down the ordinance promulgated by the Andhra Pradesh governor appointing the new SEC “as it is actuated by fraud on power and does not qualify the test of rationality and reasonableness specified in Constitution of India.”
Referring to chief minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy casting aspersions on Ramesh Kumar and attacking him on personal grounds with reference to caste, the judges said, “They (chief minister and Council of Ministers) have decided to remove Mr Ramesh Kumar due to not having connivance” and “brought narcissist Ordinance to remove him and to bring the person of their choice. Therefore, the promulgation of Ordinance is actuated by oblique reason and on extraneous grounds.”
Turning down the argument of the state government that a former judge was appointed as SEC as part of the electoral reforms being considered by the state for a long time, the High Court said the government did not think of reforms till the SEC postponed elections in view of the the coronavirus pandemic. The court felt that the government had chosen the Ordinance to circumvent the impeachment procedure, the only way to remove the SEC as per the Constitution, and it is “impermissible under law.”
The court also made it clear that cessation of office is nothing but termination from office, which takes away the valuable right accrued on the constitutional authority appointed under Article 243K of the Constitution. “There is no public interest or constitutional necessity to take immediate action by the governor for promulgation of Ordinance,” it ruled.
Significantly, the age of Justice (retd) Kanagaraj found a mention in the court verdict several times. Maintaining that none of the Election Commissioners had so far worked above the age of 65 years, the court said removing Ramesh Kumar and appointing Justice Kanagaraj at the age of 77 years, how far fair and reasonable and falls within the electoral reforms “is not appealable to us.”