A panel comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and the Chief Justice of India among others, will meet on March 1 to discuss names of probable candidates for the position of the Lokpal, the Centre informed the Supreme Court on Friday (February 23).
The Lokpal, an office created after the passage of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act by the Parliament in 2013, is mandated to inquire into allegations of corruption against public functionaries, including those holding high offices.
However, the Act requires the Lokpal to be selected by a 5-member panel that comprises of the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, Chief Justice of India, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and an eminent jurist. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi helped the BJP ride to power in May 2014, the office of Lokpal has been lying vacant.
The government had on several earlier occasions informed the Supreme Court that since there is no Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the panel for appointing the ombudsman cannot meet. The Congress is the largest opposition party but since its strength is short of 10 percent of the total strength of the Lower House, it was denied permission to nominate a LoP by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan as per parliamentary norms.
The government’s refusal to nominate a Lokpal by citing that there was no LoP in the Lok Sabha and its reluctance in amending the Lokpal Act to state that the search committee for the ombudsman should have the leader of the largest opposition party and not the LoP had led NGO Common Cause to file a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court in 2014 through advocate Prashant Bhushan. The PIL had challenged the constitutionality of the search committee rules for the appointment of Lokpal.
In April last year, the top court had told the government that the anti-corruption body should be set up without delay and the lack of a Leader of Opposition should not hold up the process. The ruling meant that the government can select a Lokpal without taking the Congress, the main opposition group, on board.
On Friday, as the matter came up for hearing before the bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R Banumati, the Centre submitted that a meeting had been convened between the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, Lok Sabha Speaker and leader of the largest party in opposition (the Congress) to discuss the appointment of a Lokpal on 1 March. While the leader of the Congress parliamentary party in Lok Sabha is Mallikarjun Kharge, the Centre has not revealed who the eminent jurist on the search committee would be.
The top court has directed the Centre’s Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to file an affidavit by March 5 indicating the steps taken with regard to the appointment of the Lokpal.