LOKPAL UPDATE IN SUPREME COURT
In a petition filed by Common Cause in 2014, the Supreme Court today strongly pushed for the appointment of a Lokpal and said that the legislation passed to appoint an anti-corruption ombudsman – a Lokpal – was a workable one and that there was no need for the Centre to keep its implementation pending. The bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Naveen Sinha added that the exercise of the amendment to the Lokpal Act should be allowed to be completed in the Parliament without intervention of the Court.
The top court also ruled that the appointment of Chairperson or member of Lokpal will not become invalid on account of any vacancy in the selection committee. If the present Lok Sabha does not have a Leader of Opposition, the Chairperson (who is the Prime Minister) and the other two members, namely the speaker and the Chief Justice of India or his nominee may appoint an eminent jurist to be part of the committee to select a Lokpal. The order further clarified that there was no legal disability in a truncated selection committee to constitute a search committee for the selection of a panel of persons for consideration for appointment as Chairperson and members of Lokpal.
The above pronouncement came on a Common Cause petition challenging the arbitrary Search Committee Rules which the Government had notified on January 17, 2014. These rules undermined the independence of the institution of Lokpal by restricting the field of selection to the hand-picked nominees of the Government and giving undue advantage to senior bureaucrats, most of whom were likely to be members of the IAS, in appointment as non-judicial members of Lokpal. This was a blatant abuse of the device of delegated legislation.
Common Cause has been fighting for the establishment of an independent and effective Lokpal since 1995, and could not allow the institution to be crippled during its gestation, hence this petition.
Subsequently, we filed an IA to foil the outgoing government’s last ditch bid to convene a meeting of the Selection Committee in order to pack the Lokpal with its nominees. The government had to give an undertaking that it would proceed with the appointments only after amending the impugned rules.
At the hearing on August 22, 2014, the CJI’s Bench pulled up the government for delaying the process of constituting the Lokpal. The government notified the amended Lokpal search committee Rules on August 27, 2014. The amended rules provide that the search committee may, for the purpose of short-listing of persons, adopt such short-listing norms as it may consider appropriate. The words, 'from amongst the list of persons provided by the Central government in the Department of Personnel and Training’, have been omitted. Thus, one of the two reliefs sought in our PIL has already been secured.
Last month, the government had told the court that the Lokpal cannot be appointed for now as important changes to a committee that is to select its members had to be cleared by parliament. The changes involved redefining the "Leader of Opposition" post to enable the leader of the largest opposition group in the Lok Sabha to be a part of the Lokpal selection panel. This was needed after the Congress failed to win enough seats in the 2014 national election to qualify for the post of Leader of Opposition.
After the BJP came to power in 2014, the government said that the leader of opposition's place in the Lokpal selection committee would stay vacant. It later made a concession and decided to include the largest opposition party in selection panels not just for the Lokpal but also for CBI chief, the Information Commission and the Vigilance Commission. The Congress had been cleared to participate in all but the Lokpal panel.
After admonishing the Centre for causing delay in the selection process on the pretext of the absence of the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, the Court on February 13, 2017 had directed that our petition along with all connected cases be listed for final disposal on March 28, 2017, and pleadings, if any, may be completed, in the meantime.
Judgment in the matter had been reserved on March 28, 2017.
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