SC pulls up government for dragging feet on Lokpal

New Delhi, Nov 23 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Wednesday hauled up the government for not amending the Lokpal Act to recognise the leader of the single largest opposition party in Parliament as the leader of the opposition for constituting the Selection Committee for Lokpal.

“For last two-and-a-half years there is no leader of opposition. This position is likely to continue for next two-and-a-half years. There would be no leader of opposition. Will you allow the law to become redundant just because there is no leader of opposition?” asked the bench of Chief Justice T.S Thakur, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice L. Nageswara Rao.

Noting the manner government was dragging its feet in amending the Lokpal law for recognising the leader of the largest opposition group as the leader of opposition for forming a Selection Committee, the bench said: “This is an institution intended to bring probity in public life, then this institution must work. We will not allow the situation where the institution is rendered redundant.”

As Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi resisted suggestion from senior counsel Shanti Bhushan, who told the court that the matter could not be left to the political parties and the court should step in, Chief Justice Thakur said: “The law was notified in January 2014 and now we will be in January 2017.”

He told the government: “What you are doing in other enactments, you are not doing in it (Lokpal).”

Shanti Bhushan appeared for the petitioner NGO Common Cause that has challenged the Rules for setting up the Lokpal Selection Committee.

Doubting the intention of the government in putting in place the institution of Lokpal, Bhushan wondered what prevented the government from issuing an ordinance to say that the leader of the largest opposition party would be treated as the leader of the opposition for the purposes of the Selection Committee.

Rohatgi opposed the suggestion by Bhushan that the judiciary should pass a direction to Parliament to pass the amendment, saying it would amount to judicial legislation.

“We have introduced the amendment to the Lokpal Act. Judiciary can’t direct Parliament. It would amount to judicial legislation,” he said.

At this Chief Justice Thakur said: “You are committed to Lokpal and you also say that the leader of the single largest party should be recognised as leader of opposition. You should welcome any judgment by the court saying the leader of the single largest party would be treated as the leader of the opposition (for the purpose of Lokpal Act).”

As the Attorney General showed his reluctance to accept the suggestion, the bench said: “It would mean court can’t give any direction, you will not legislate, how can it be done Mr AG?”

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, provides for the Selection Committee comprising the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, Leader of Opposition, Chief Justice of India and an eminent jurist (to be selected by the first four) for the selection of Chairman and the members of Lokpal.

The Lokpal statute says the Selection Committee, before selecting the Chairman and members of Lokpal, would set up a Search Committee of at least seven people of standing having special knowledge in different wings of administration including vigilance, finance, anti-corruption policy, public administration, policy making, insurance and banking.

Rohatgi had in 2014 said that the absence of a recognised Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha would not cloud appointments to statutory bodies – Lokpal, Central Vigilance Commission, Central Bureau of Investigation, Central Information Commission and National Human Rights Commission.

The AG had said this in his advisory opinion to the Lok Sabha Secretariat.

The AG’s opinion was sought after Congress President Sonia Gandhi had written to the Lok Sabha Speaker seeking that the Congress leader in the Lok Sabha be recognised as Leader of Opposition.

The court pulled up the government in the course of hearing of a petition by Common Cause challenging the Lokpal Selection Committee Rules coming in the way of setting up a committee for the last two years.