In a major setback to Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the Gujarat High Court on Wednesday, by a majority verdict, upheld the appointment of Justice R.A. Mehta, a retired judge of the High Court, as Lokayukta. The Modi government's petition challenging Governor Kamla Beniwal appointing the Lokayukta bypassing the government was dismissed.
The third judge, Justice V.M. Sahai, to whom the issue was referred after a split verdict by a Division Bench, said he concurred with the judgment of Justice Akil Kureshi, who had upheld the Lokayukta appointment. The junior judge on the Bench, Sonia Gokani, had quashed Justice Mehta's appointment terming it unconstitutional.
“I could not persuade myself to agree with the views of Justice Gokani on the points of differences referred to me,” Justice Sahai said. “I concur with my brother-judge Akil Kureshi,” he said.
The official spokesman of the State government and Health Minister, Jaynarayan Vyas, said they would challenge the High Court judgment in the Supreme Court, but only after studying the order and consulting legal experts. No court order was a matter of “rejoice” or a “setback,” he said, and added that every judgment had to be “accepted and respected.”
Concurring with the views of Justice Kureshi, Justice Sahai said he did not agree that the Governor had appointed the Lokayukta even when the “process of consultation” was on between the Chief Minister and the then Chief Justice of the High Court, S.J. Mukhopadhyaya. He said Mr. Modi had “rejected' Justice Mukhopadhyaya's recommendation in favour of Justice Mehta and the process of consideration was deemed to have been completed and was “irreversible.” The Governor accepted the recommendation of the former Chief Justice and appointed Justice Mehta as the Lokayukta.
The Gujarat Congress welcomed the High Court order. Leader of the Opposition Shaktisinh Gohil described it as the “victory of truth.” He advised the State against approaching the Supreme Court on the issue.