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Why is Delhi's AAP govt delaying the appointment of a Lokayukta?

Vishakh Unnikrishnan | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 4:09 IST

The post

  • Delhi\'s last Lokayukta, Manmohan Sarin, retired in 2013
  • Since then, the post has been lying vacant

The philosophy

  • AAP was formed as an offshoot of the Jan Lokpal movement
  • The institution of the Lokayukta and its anti-corruption powers resonate with the party\'s philosophy

The delay

  • It\'s been six months since AAP formed a govt with a humongous majority in Delhi
  • But even now, a Lokayukta has not been appointed
  • The Lieutenant Governor and the opposition BJP is questioning the govt\'s inertia
  • Leader of the opposition Vijender Gupta alleges he has not yet been consulted, as required by law
  • The govt claims it has sent the names to the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court

It took 45 years to get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed through Parliament. But eventually, when it did, it must be acknowledged that Arvind Kejriwal played a role in the agitation that made it a mass movement which politicians could no longer ignore.

But the irony is that six months after Kejriwal became the Chief Minister of Delhi, the post of Lokayukta remains vacant.

There has been no Lokayukta in Delhi since Manmohan Sarin retired in 2013.

On 2 September, a national daily reported that Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung sent a letter to the CM, urging him to send a "panel of names" of candidates for the Lokayukta's post.

The very next day, it was reported that Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party government had already sent a list of names, to Delhi High Court chief justice G Rohini.

"We had already sent a list of names to the chief justice. The L-G should know that it takes time for the entire process, and he'll only get the list of names once the chief justice approves," said a source in the party who didn't wish to be named.

Deputy CM Manish Sisodia's media advisor, Arunodaya Prakash, added: "If the L-G is really concerned about appointing a Lokayukta, why did he not do so in the one year he was in charge of Delhi?"

Inordinate delay

Three months ago, the Delhi High Court sent a notice to the AAP government and the Lieutenant Governor to appoint a Lokayukta as soon as possible, explaining the imperative need for an ombudsman.

In the last 18 months, there has been a growing number of cases for the Lokayukta, and citizens feel they are being denied a key legal right.

The Delhi government has, since then, repeatedly stated that it has already begun the process to appoint a Lokayukta. In July, it submitted to the court that it was "firmly committed to implementing the Lokayukta Act".

The govt claims it has sent a list of candidates to the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court

While a Lokayukta is responsible for charges of corruption against officials at the state level, the Lokpal is for officials at the Centre.

But the party source claimed the AAP wanted to alter the law. "We are not happy with the present Lokayukta Act. We need a more stringent Act, wherein the Centre's officials can also be questioned. We will have a special session on this," the source said.

Contradicting claims

As per Article 3 of the the Delhi Lokayukta and Uplokayukta Act, 1995, the appointment of the Lokayukta should be done in consultation with the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court and the leader of the opposition, with the final assent to be given by the Lieutenant Governor and the President of India.

But the leader of the opposition in the Delhi assembly, BJP's Vijender Gupta, alleges that the AAP government is trying to 'mislead the high court' and states that constitutional procedure has not been followed for the appointment of a Lokayukta.

"I had moved the high court on the matter. The affidavit filed [by the government] in the Delhi High Court is false and misleading. Until now, the government has not initiated any consultation process on the appointment of the Lokayukta," he said.

AAP leaders and spokespersons depict an entirely different picture.

Spokesperson Deepak Vajpayee stated that there was a decision to appoint Law Commission chairman Justice AP Shah as the Lokayukta, and that this was done after consulting the leader of the opposition. Shah eventually declined the offer.

"The opposition itself suggested the appointment Shah as the Lokayukta," Vajpayee said.

Gupta denies Vajpayee's claims. "I have not been consulted at all. In fact, the high court has sought a reply, on the basis of my plea, on why I was not consulted," he said.

A one-week job

Although Shah never gave an explanation, some say negative media coverage and unwarranted pressure were among the reasons for his refusal.

Be that as it may, does it really take so long to appoint a Lokayukta?

"We have submitted the names to the court. The process does take time, as we need to consult lawyers, administrators and other experts. We have requested various eminent people if they are interested in the post. We can't give a ball-by-ball update to the media as it may cause embarrassment to the persons consulted," Vajpayee said.

But Santosh Hegde, former Solicitor General of India and Karnataka's acclaimed Lokayukta from 2006-2011, said: "If the government is serious on the matter, a Lokayukta can be appointed in a week's time. The only issue would be in appointing a date for everyone to convene on."

Hegde also criticised the AAP government on the delay. "It seems when one is out of power, there are certain demands you expect those in power to comply with. But when you yourself come to power, those demands suddenly seem not-so-important.

"The reasons are same, whether it's the Delhi government or the Karnataka government. They are apprehensive about any adversity against their government."

While the AAP likes to portray that it's stuck between a rock and a hard place, with the leader of the opposition and the Centre not co-operating and the L-G passing the buck. But there certainly seems to be no impetus in appointing a Lokayukta.

First published: 4 September 2015, 12:32 IST
Vishakh Unnikrishnan @sparksofvishdom

A graduate of the Asian College of Journalism, Vishakh tracks stories on public policy, environment and culture. Previously at Mint, he enjoys bringing in a touch of humour to the darkest of times and hardest of stories. One word self-description: Quipster.