Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi has told the government that the Election Commission of India’s recommendation that the law be amended to make it mandatory for retired bureaucrats to have a “cooling-off” period before entering elective politics will not stand judicial scrutiny.
Sources said Rohtagi has also disagreed with the EC recommendation that while retired government servants could contest elections independently, there should be a bar on their joining a political party during the cooling-off period.
Last year, the then AG, Goolam E Vahanvati, had also told the government that any restriction on government servants joining politics or contesting polls immediately after retirement would not stand legal scrutiny.
Some time back, the EC again wrote to the government, quoting a court judgment, to seek bar on retired government servants from joining political parties during the cooling-off period. The EC has been repeatedly urging the government to ensure a “suitable” cooling-off period for government officials before they enter politics, so that they remain impartial during their tenure in the government. It has suggested amendments in service conduct rules to do so.
Incidentally, service conduct rules bar civil servants from joining a private company for at least one year after he retires or resigns from government service but there are no rules to prevent him from joining political parties or contesting elections.
Last year, the EC had written to the government emphasising that a bar on retiring bureaucrats joining political parties would ensure a level-playing field ahead of the general elections. The poll panel had also expressed concern over a large number of “senior civil servants” jumping into electoral fray.
However, the Law Ministry had written back to the EC, saying such a provision would not be appropriate and that it would also go against provisions in the Constitution.
In the recent Lok Sabha elections, former union home secretary R K Singh, a 1975-batch retired IAS officer of Bihar cadre, won on a BJP ticket from Ara constituency in Bihar. Also, former Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh, who resigned from his job just before the elections and joined the BJP, won from Baghpat.
Former Army chief general V K Singh, now a minister of state (independent charge) in the Narendra Modi government, also joined the BJP and won from Ghaziabad constituency. The Aam Aadmi Party candidate from Thiruvananthapuram, former IPS officer Ajit Joy, who took voluntary retirement to enter politics, however, had lost to Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.
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