SC Gives Centre 4 Weeks to Inform About Steps Taken To Appoint Lokpal; Bhushan Says Govt Has No Such Plan

SC Gives Centre 4 Weeks to Inform About Steps Taken To Appoint Lokpal; Bhushan Says Govt Has No Such Plan

“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”, Advocate Prashant Bhushan to SC on behalf of petitioner NGO Common Cause)

The Supreme Court today asked the Centre to inform it within four weeks the steps being taken to appoint a Lokpal even as noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner NGO Common Cause told the bench 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 apprised the bench headed by Ranjan Gogoi 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 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 said.

But the bench adjourned the matter till April 17 after telling Bhushan “We have taken note of youur 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 appointment of a ‘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 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.