In a move that may spark a constitutional crisis, Gujarat Governor Kamala Beniwal on Friday appointed a Lokayukta, bypassing the Narendra Modi government. Within hours, the State government moved the High Court, challenging the constitutional propriety of the appointment.
Sources in the government said Gujarat might become the second State, after Karnataka, to witness a confrontation between the government and the Governor.
The announcement of Lokayukta's appointment was made by Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Shaktisinh Gohil, who led a Congress delegation to the Governor in the afternoon to request her to appoint a Lokayukta, arguing that the government had failed for the past seven-and-half years to fill the post in keeping with its constitutional obligations.
Coming out of the Raj Bhavan, Mr. Gohil said the Governor told the delegation that she had issued the notification on Thursday, appointing R.A. Mehta, a retired judge of the Gujarat High Court, Lokayukta. She also said the file on the appointment had been sent to the government.
The name of the 75-year-old Mehta — who served as judge of the High Court from 1982 till his retirement in May 1998 and who has also held the post of acting Chief Justice several times — was recommended earlier by the Chief Justice of the High Court, S.J. Mukhopadhyaya, and was approved by the Congress.
Mr. Gohil, himself an advocate practising in the High Court, maintained that under the State Lokayukta Act, the government had no role in the appointment, the power of which vested with the Governor.
He said the Governor had cleared Justice Mehta's name long ago and advised the government to issue the notification for his appointment, but the government failed to act, despite several reminders, forcing the Governor to directly appoint the Lokayukta.
Cabinet spokesman and Health Minister Jaynarayan Vyas said the direct appointment of the Lokayukta by the Governor was “unconstitutional.” The Governor, he claimed, was expected to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers and could not bypass the government in any appointment.
Pointing to the constitution of the five-member Cabinet sub-committee at Wednesday's Cabinet meeting to recommend amendments to the State Lokayukta Act commensurate with the Lokpal Bill to be adopted by Parliament, Mr. Vyas said that when the process was under way to make changes to and expand the scope of the Act, the Governor had erred by making the appointment without consulting the government.