Supreme Court questions Centre on delay in Lokpal

The bench asked Attorney General to take proper instructions from competent authorities and revert on December 7.
SC, Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the Centre over the delay in appointment of Lokpal, saying it should not allow the law to become a “dead letter” and questioning the reason of delay if the government is really concerned about checking corruption in the country.

The bench led by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur had observed that  the law to have Lokpal was passed after a prolonged struggle by civil society and it must become functional regardless whether the incumbent government wants it or not. The nation-wide stir led by Anna Hazare cannot be made redundant just because the legislation was not amended to bring in the leader of the largest opposition party in the selection panel, it said.

Seeking a deadline from Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi on when the institution would become functional, the court questioned the reason for delay since past two years.

It is to be noted that the appointment of the anti-corruption ombudsman has been hanging in balance since the The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 which received Presidential assent on January 1, 2014 on the ground that the legislation provides that the Leader of Opposition (LoP) has to be in selection committee, but there is no Leader of Opposition in the present Lok Sabha.

However, the bench also comprising justices DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao said the Leader of Opposition is “dispensable” and things can proceed even without LoP who can be replaced by the leader of the largest opposition party in the committee.

The Supreme Court expressed disappointment when the Centre said the amendment to replace LoP with the leader of the largest opposition party in the proposed selection committee of Lokpal is pending with Parliament and asking it to clear would amount to “judicial legislation”.

Attorney General said as per the provision, the largest opposition party has to have a certain number of MPs in Lok Sabha to claim the post of LoP and the amendment is pending with Parliament. However, Congress, the largest opposition party has only 45 members and lacks the requisite 10 per cent of total 545 seats, giving rise to the requirement to amend the present Lokpal Act.

According to the law, the selection of chairperson and members of Lokpal shall be through a selection panel consisting of the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, LoP in Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India or a sitting SC judge nominated by the CJI, an eminent jurist to be nominated by President of India on the basis of recommendations of first four members of selection committee.

The court told AG, “If you could do (amend LoP) it for four other enactments so conveniently, what is the problem in doing it for this Act? You claim you are committed to appointing a Lokpal and you have also moved an amendment to this effect so in our opinion, you should welcome a judgment from this court if that expedites everything.”
However, he resisted an order from the court, saying amendment in a law was within the ambit of the Parliament and that he was not in a position to commit a time frame for the amendment to be passed. At this, the bench asked him to take proper instructions from competent authorities and revert on December 7.