Don’t undermine role of Oppn leader, SC tells govt
New Delhi, August 22
“The government can’t undermine the role of the Leader of Opposition in the (selection of) Lokpal,” a Bench headed by Chief Justice RM Lodha told Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.
There is no Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha since none of the opposition parties could secure 55 seats (representing 10 per cent of the total strength of 545 members) to claim the post.
“Leader of Opposition is a very, very important component of Lokpal and is necessary for objective considerations. If the government is unable to fill the vacuum, the court will give proper interpretation” to laws relating to the Leader of Opposition at least for the limited purpose of the anti-corruption watchdog, it said.
Justices Kurian Joseph and RF Nariman were the other judges on the Bench.
Pointing out the need for urgency, the Bench told the government that the matter “can’t be put in cold storage”.
Under the Lokpal Act, the Lokpal and its members are appointed by a select committee comprising five members — the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, Leader of Opposition in LS, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) or his representative and an eminent jurist.
“The voice of the Leader of Opposition represents a view different from that of the ruling party,” the Bench noted. At this, the AG acknowledged that all five members were important, but as of today there was no Leader of Opposition.
Rohatgi said the government was considering amendments to the Lokpal Act as well as the rules, but refused to give details. “We are doing a complete review of the Act and rules, but I can’t specify anything,” he said and sought four weeks for the purpose. The Bench, however, granted only two weeks and posted the next hearing for September 9.
At one stage, the Bench said Parliament was perhaps of the view that the Leader of Opposition could be from the single largest Opposition party even if it did not get 10 per cent of the seats.
The Bench was hearing a PIL by NGO Common Cause challenging the rules under which the Lokpal Search Committee could recommend candidates only from the list of persons provided by the Central Government. This restriction directly ran counter to the very object of having an independent Lokpal, the petitioner contended.
The petitioner said the selection rules were notified on January 17, 2014 without complying with a mandatory provision (Section 61) of the Lokpal Act 2014 for placing them in Parliament 30 days in advance.
Further, at least four sitting judges of the SC were reported to have expressed their desire to be considered for the post of judicial members of the Lokpal.
Though keeping sitting judges in the zone of selection was permitted under the Act, it would seriously compromise judicial independence, a basic feature of the Constitution, particularly because of the fact that the government was the biggest litigant in the apex court, the PIL contended.
Retired SC judge KT Thomas and eminent jurist Fali Nariman have refused to be part of the Lokpal Search Committee as its Chairman and member, respectively, saying the selection process would result in overlooking the most competent, independent and courageous persons.
What the Bench