The Supreme Court today asked the Centre to expedite the process for appointment of a Lokpal.
The remark came when Attorney General K K Venugopal submitted before a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R Banumathi that a meeting was held on April 10 to choose an eminent jurist who will be part of the selection committee to select the Lokpal.
Noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan on behalf of petitioner NGO Common Cause urged the court to pass an order with a direction to the Centre arguing that the Centre was merely dragging its feet.
But the bench only adjourned the matter by four weeks and fixed May 15 as next date of hearing.
On March 6, the last date of hearing, Bhushan argued that it was clear that the government does not want to appoint” the most important anti-corruption watchdog.
At the outset, Attorney General K K Venugopal had on that day apprised the bench about the meeting of the selection committee comprising of Prime Minister, Lok Sabha speaker and the Chief Justice held on March 1 and said:
“the selection committee took note of orders passed by this court . It was first decided to fill the vacancy of 'eminent jurist' and only then we can proceed with the appointment of Lokpal”
Justice Gogoi then asked: “Is there any indication when the eminent jurist will be appointed?”
Venugopal replied : “At the earliest”.
When Bhushan’s turn came he had said: “it is clear that the government does not want to appoint a Lokpal.”
“The Act is more than four year old. Even after the order of this court, one year lapsed. Only when we filed a contempt petition they called for a meeting”, he had said.
But the bench had adjourned the matter to today after telling Bhushan “We have taken note of our submissions. Now let us see what they will do in four weeks”.
On March 1 Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge refused to attend the meeting of the Lokpal selection committee to decide on the appointment of an ‘eminent jurist’, seriously miffed at the invitation as a ‘special invitee’.
“At the outset let me state on behalf of myself, my party and the entire opposition that the ‘Special invitee invitation’ is a concerted effort to exclude the independent voice of the opposition altogether from the selection process of the most important anti-corruption watchdog. It negates the letter and spirit of The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013 in toto”, Kharge, leader of the Congress which is the single largest party in opposition in Lok Sabha, had said in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Centre had on February 23 informed the Supreme Court that steps have been taken to process for the appointment of Lokpal, which has been delayed since the enactment of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act in 2014, and a meeting of the selection panel was scheduled to be held on March 1.
He had also said that the delay of the selection panel was due to the death of senior lawyer PP Rao, who was also one of the members in the panel, in September last year.
Accepting the submission of the government’s senior-most law officer, the bench had directed the Secretary Department of Personnel and Training to file an affidavit giving detail about the steps taken by today.
The court, which was hearing the contempt petition filed by NGO Common Cause, posted the matter to March 6 for further hearing. Advocate Prashant Bhushan appeared for the NGO.
Under the Act, which was passed in the Parliament in 2013 but came into force next year after the President had given his assent, the Lokpal is to be appointed by the selection committee including the PM, CJI or his nominee and an eminent jurist.
The government had taken a stand that delay was due to the absence of Leader of Opposition (LOP).
Since the Congress does not have the required 10 percent of the total seats in the Lok Sabha, the party was denied the LOP status after the General Election in 2014.
In April 2017, the top court had said the anti-corruption body should be set up without delay and the absence of LOP should not come on the way of appointment. However, following the pressure from the Supreme Court the government later decided to include the largest opposition party in selection panels for the Lokpal and for CBI chief.