Directs Gujarat government to finalise new Lokayukta in four months

Gujarat High Court judge Sonia Gokani on Tuesday set aside the appointment of Justice R.A. Mehta as Lokayukta by Governor Kamla Beniwal and directed the government to finalise the appointment of a new Lokayukta within four months.

Allowing the government's petition challenging the appointment, Justice Gokani held that the Governor at no stage had the authority to make any unilateral appointment and was required to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister. She held as “unconstitutional and invalid” the Governor's appointment of Justice Mehta, a retired judge of the High Court, on August 25, bypassing the government.

On Monday, the Division Bench, of which Justice Gokani was the junior member, delivered a split verdict, as the senior member, Justice Akil Kureshi, held the appointment as “constitutional and valid.” Justice Gokani, whose dictating of order remained incomplete, made it clear that she “differed” with her fellow judge on the conclusion.

The issue is now set to go to the acting Chief Justice for being referred to a larger Bench or a third judge.

Agreeing with Justice Kureshi that the post of Lokayukta remained vacant for long (about eight years), Justice Gokani, dismissed a public interest litigation petition by Bhikhubhai Jethwa, which was filed before the government's petition and taken up with it. She directed the government to fill the vacancy in four months.

The Division Bench, however, decided to take up separately another PIL petition filed by a voluntary organisation accusing Chief Minister Narendra Modi of contempt of court by making public a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the Governor's unilateral appointment of the Lokayukta, when the issue was in court.