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'No Lokpal in current scenario': Why has Modi govt taken a U-turn?

Catch Team | Updated on: 28 March 2017, 20:58 IST
(Arya Sharma)

Four years have passed since the Parliament passed the Lokpal Bill and yet the promise of appointing a Lokpal remains unfulfilled. And it seems unlikely that it will happen anytime soon. The Narendra Modi government on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that the Lokpal cannot be appointed in the current scenario since the amendments regarding the definition of Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Lokpal Act is yet to get approval of the Parliament.

As a result, the Apex Court reserved its verdict on a number of pleas requesting the appointment of the Lokpal at the earliest. The SC bench, headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, said that they have heard all the parties and the judgment is reserved. The next date of hearing is December 7, 2017, and it is unlikely that the Center would go ahead with the appointment anytime soon.

According to the Lokpal and Lok Ayuktas Act of 2013, the Lokpal selection committee should be represented by the LoP and since no party in the lower house has the required numbers to stake claim an amendment has to be passed before any appointment is made. At present, the Lok Sabha doesn't have a LoP since Congress, the second largest party, has only 44 MPs while any party willing to stake claim for the post must have 10% of the 545 seats.

Accusing the government of deliberately delaying the appointment of the Lokpal, senior advocate Shanti Bhushan who appeared for NGO Common Cause, said that as per the Lokpal Act, the appointment should be made at the earliest.

Earlier in December 2016, the apex court had asked the government to share a copy of the report of the standing committee that suggested particular amendments to the law and even criticised the government for delaying the appointment of the Lokpal. Back then, Rohatgi had assured that the court's observation have been relayed to the highest authorities and the process would be “expedited”.

The court had also told the Centre that the need for a LoP in the panel was dispensable and the leader of the largest Opposition party could be a part of it. The law mandates that the committee to chose Lokpal and its members should be represented by the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, LoP in Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India or a sitting SC judge nominated by the him, and a senior jurist to be nominated by the President on recommendation of the other four members in the selection panel.

Meanwhile, the Congress accused the Center for deliberately scuttling the appointment and that the statement made by the Attorney General came as a rude shock to the crores of Indians who were agitating since 2011 to get such a law. Congress spokesperson Gaurav Gogoi claimed that the submissions made by the AG appear to be contradicting the legal opinion tendered by him in 2014.

“On July 23, 2014 the Attorney General had submitted a legal opinion on recognising the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha. In his opinion, the AG has stated that the provision in Lokpal and Lok Ayukata Act of 2013 which provides that vacancies in Selection Committee will not invalidate appointments to statutory bodies, covers the situation where Leader of Opposition does not exist,” said Gogoi.

“This opinion is in direct conflict with submissions made by the Attorney General yesterday. Shockingly, the AG has, however, accepted that errors had crept into the opinion given by him in 2014 since the focus in that opinion was on recognition of Leader of Opposition and not Lokpal,” Gogoi said while adding that why did the central government didn't urge the apex court to expedite the proceedings in the case.

The Congress also attacked the government for not appointing chairman, vice chairman and other members of statutory bodies like the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, National Commission for Backward Classes and National Commission for Minorities. Gogoi added that thousands of cases and applications are pending with these commissions and because of these vacancies thousands of cases and applications are pending while people face immense difficulties.

“While we understand the Prime Minister was perpetually in election campaign mode and all his Council of Ministers were busy in wheeling and dealing in states even after the election results were declared. They left the governance of the union on autopilot mode, hence these crucial decisions were not made,” the Congress spokesperson said.

Accusing Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu of back-tracking on his assurance that these vacancies would soon be filled, Gogoi said that 24-hours after the announcement, Naidu said these vacancies will be filled not immediately but in "due course”. The Congress urged the central government to expedite the appointment of Lokpal and demanded that all the other vacancies in various commissions should also be filled soon.

“The BJP government which has a record of bringing ordinances by the minute can easily get a law passed, paving the way for the appointment of a Lokpal,” Gogoi said.

First published: 28 March 2017, 20:58 IST