Two advocates file contempt petitions against Modi in High Court

Even as the Gujarat High Court rescheduled for Wednesday the hearing on the State government's petition challenging Governor Kamala Beniwal appointing the Lokayukta without consulting the Council of Ministers, two petitions were filed on Monday for contempt of court proceedings against Chief Minister Narendra Modi for criticising the appointment when the matter is sub judice.

Revised petition filed

As directed by the court, the State government filed a revised petition dropping the Governor's name from the list of respondents and adding the High Court Registrar-General as the second respondent in addition to the Lokayukta, Justice R.A. Mehta, a retired judge of the High Court.

On August 25, the Governor made the appointment accepting the recommendation of Chief Justice S.J. Mukhopadhyaya, for whom Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Shaktisinh Gohil, had given his consent. In its petition, the Modi government claimed that the appointment was against the spirit of the Constitution, which required the consent of the Chief Minister as the head of the Council of Ministers. The Lokayukta Act passed by the Assembly in 1986, however, gives the Governor powers to appoint Lokayukta “in consultation with the Chief Justice and the Leader of the Opposition.”

‘Drop Governors’ name

The court asked the government to drop the name of the Governor from the list of respondents as, under the Constitution, the Governor could not be dragged to the court. Accordingly, the government filed an amended petition before a Division Bench that comprised Justices Akil Kureshi and Sonia Gokani. The Bench re-scheduled the hearing on the petition to Wednesday. It directed the government to submit in sealed cover copies of all correspondence between the Chief Justice, the Chief Minister and the Governor on the Lokayukta appointment.

Contempt petition

Meanwhile, two senior advocates Mukul Sinha and Anand Yagnik filed contempt petitions against Mr. Modi, stating that he was making critical remarks on Justice Mehta's appointment even when the court was seized of the issue. They said Mr. Modi had written an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, expressing strong reservations about the Governor's choice and demanding her “recall.”

Some voluntary organisations had also applied for becoming party to the contempt proceedings against the Chief Minister.

Mr. Modi, who opposed Justice Mehta's appointment on the ground that he did not expect him to function “impartially,” was learnt to be insisting on another retired judge, J.R. Vora, as the Lokayukta. Earlier, the Chief Justice was said to have recommended the name of Justice S.D. Dave, also a retired judge, for the post. But Mr. Modi wrote back, stating that the name was not acceptable. He wanted the Chief Justice to consider the name of Justice Vora.

On being told that Justice Vora could not be considered for the post as he was already appointed director of the Gujarat State Judicial Academy, the Chief Justice again recommended Justice Mehta's name. Again, Mr. Modi opposed the choice and insisted on Justice Vora. After the impasse remained unresolved for several months, the Governor took the initiative to appoint Justice Mehta bypassing the State government.

Even as the Cabinet appointed a five-member sub-committee to “recommend amendments to the Lokayukta Act,” the Governor moved fast.