Kharge refuses to attend Lokpal meet as 'Special Invitee', says he has no rights
After being approached by the government to discuss the appointment of the Lokpal, senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge has for the third time decided to boycott the selection committee meeting citing the “special invitee” tag. In his letter dated 18 July, Kharge wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi claiming that he won't be able to attend the meeting until the leader of the single largest Opposition party is conferred the status of a full-fledged member as envisioned in the Lokpal Act, 2013.
The selection committee for selecting the ombudsman comprises the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the leader of the largest Opposition party, and an eminent jurist. However, in the past, the government, in its response to the Supreme Court, had cited the lack of opposition leader as the reason for delay in anti-corruption ombudsman’s appointment.
The veteran leader had earlier boycotted two meetings – 1 March and 10 April – citing similar reasons for his absence. The twin meetings were convened to decide on the appointment of an eminent jurist who would be a part of the selection committee. Back then Kharge, in his letters to the Prime Minister, had claimed that his attendance as special invitee does not entitle him to participate, voice his opinion and even vote during the course of the meeting.
In his recent letter, Kharge made similar claims and went on to add how the invitation is only to mislead the nation and the people rather then sincerely seeking the participation and opinion of the Opposition.
The veteran Congress leader in his letter to the Prime Minister said, “The government insists on continuing to invite me as special invitee to the Selection Committee despite being aware of the fact that there is no such provision under Section 4 of Lokpal Act. It has been four years since your government came to power and if the government was indeed sincere about including the voice of the opposition in this process, it would have brought the necessary amendments to ensure the same.”
He goes on to add, “I am sure you are aware that the Select Committee has approved the Amendment to the Lokpal Act to include the Leader of the Single Largest Opposition Party as a member of the Selection Committee. The fact that this amendment has never been brought before the house by the government clearly indicates that the government is keen to keep the opposition outside the process of appointing the Lokpal.”
Despite the Act being passed in 2013,the government had not yet shown any sincerity in appointing a Lokpal leading to Supreme Court reprimanding it for the same. Under serious pressure from the Supreme Court over the delay in Lokpal's appointment, the government intensified its efforts and reached out to Kharge to ensure his presence in the meeting.
However, Kharge accused the government of deliberately delaying the appointment process while diluting the RTI Act and Whistleblower’s Protection Act. These actions according to him are further weakening laws to fight corruption and empowering common man.
“Since no amendments in the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 have been carried out, an invitation as a Special Invitee without rights of participation, recording of opinion and voting in procedure, is only to mislead the nation and the people, rather than sincerely seeking the participation and opinion of the Opposition,” Kharge said.
He went on to add that till the time the leader of single largest Opposition party is conferred the status of a full-fledged member as envisioned in the Lok Pal Act, 2013. Meanwhile, earlier in February, the apex court had pointed that a Lokpal can be appointed in absence of a Leader of the Opposition. The court had said that the vacancy in selection committee should not be the reason for the delay in the appointment of the ombudsman.
According to the law, Leader of the Opposition should be a member of the selection committee and though Congress is the largest party in the Lok Sabha, it doesn't have enough members to claim the post. At present, Congress has 48 legislators as opposed to 55 needed to claim the post. Though, the court has given a go-ahead to appoint Lokpal without the Leader of the Opposition, the central government under pressure decided to bring an amendment to change the rule.
However, the amendment to the definition of Leader of Opposition in the Lokpal Act is still pending with the Parliament and the government's delay in getting it passed has created this friction between Congress and the former.
Meanwhile, earlier on Tuesday, the Supreme Court, while hearing a petition filed by NGO Common Cause against the delay in the appointment of the ombudsman, directed the Center to shortlist names for appointment as Lokpal. The bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, R Banumathi and Navin Sinha will resume hearing on 24 July after the government files a report on 23 July. The government has to file a reply after the selection committee holds its meeting on 19 July.