Lokpal may be a reality soon, thanks to SC's push
The country's long wait for an anti-corruption ombudsman, Lokpal, appears to be heading towards culmination.
The Supreme Court has signalled to the government that it will bear with no more excuses. Hearing a petition challenging the Search Committee Rules notified by the government, the top court told the Centre that the legislation passed to appoint Lokpal was a 'workable' one, and there was no need for the government to keep its implementation pending.
The SC bench, comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Naveen Sinha, also said that whatever amendments to the Act are pending could also be enforced right away. The PIL was filed by NGO Common Cause in 2014, challenging the Search Committee Rules that the UPA government had notified in January of that year. The NDA government maintained the same stand as its predecessor, and the appointment has, as a result, been pending since then.
The LoP clause
The arguments in the case have been mainly centered around the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act of 2013 mandates that the LoP will be part of the Lokpal selection panel, but the present Lok Sabha has no LoP.
The Congress has been trying to get Mallikarjun Kharge included in the panel by pressurising the government to amend the requirement terminology as “leader of the largest Opposition party”. The government is yet to bring that amendment in Parliament, and has cleverly presented the absence of this amendment as a justification for keeping the appointment pending in the SC.
The latest pronouncement by the top court indicates that it may no longer be tenable for the government to hide behind this excuse. The Congress has, in any case, been accusing the government of “deliberately not operationalising the Lokpal Act by delaying a small amendment”.
20 amendments pending
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had told the bench a month ago that a total of 20 amendments were pending, and advised the court to “stay off issues pending before Parliament”.
Another contentious issue comprised the search committee rules that, according to Common Cause, “undermined the independence” of the 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”.
The NGO called this “a blatant abuse of the device of delegated legislation”.
The absence of LoP has also prevented the appointment of an eminent jurist on the panel that will select a Lokpal. Regarding this, the SC bench has ruled that the Chief Justice of India will have primacy in choosing the eminent jurist. Another amendment is about capping the tenure of this jurist.
Interestingly, the Congress recently also filed a privilege notice in the Lok Sabha against Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for 'misleading' the House on the issue of appointment of Lokpal. Congress MP KC Venugopal said that Jaitley's statement that the Lokpal Bill was with the standing committee was not true and amounted to misleading the House.
It remains to be seen how the government will react to the SC's observations, as the hearing in the case is reportedly not over yet. Also, the amendments are not likely to be passed before the next session of Parliament, which will be the Monsoon Session.