A day after Justice (retd) R.A. Mehta declined to take up the office of Gujarat Lokayukta, the state government on Thursday said they are assessing legal options and they do not want the post to stay vacant for long.
“We strongly believe that the post of state Lokayukta should not stay vacant for longer time now. We are assessing the situation and have asked the legal experts to soon chart out the next course of action,” state finance minister and government spokesperson Nitin Patel told PTI.
Giving a new fillip to the controversy over the Lokayukta issue, Justice Mehta, whose appointment as Gujarat Lokayukta was opposed by Narendra Modi government, on Wednesday declined to assume office, saying the controversy has “denigrated” the office of the anti-corruption watchdog.
A retired Gujarat High Court judge, Justice Mehta blasted the Modi government for calling him “biased” and “anti-government” while opposing his appointment.
To a question whether the state government would persuade Justice Mehta to withdraw his decision not to assume office, Mr. Patel said, “As I said we are still in the process of assessing all possible options. I cannot tell you anything more on this.”
The state government on Wednesday said that it was wrong on Mehta’s part to say that the government was opposed to him, whereas, the state government was opposing the process under which he was appointed as Lokayukta by Governor.
Meanwhile, former Gujarat Lokayukta, Justice R.M. Soni has strongly opined that despite Mehta deciding not to take up the Lokayukta post, the Modi government should request him to assume office.
“I strongly believe and wish that the state government would request Justice R.A. Mehta to re-consider his decision not to assume office of the Lokayukta,” Justice Soni told PTI.
“Both sides should put everything aside, let bygones be bygones and see that the state would get its Lokayukta,” said Justice Soni.
“However, if the state government takes a stand not to persuade Justice Mehta then we are back to square one and the whole process has to be started afresh under the existing Gujarat Lokayukta Act of 1986,” he said.
He also opined that if all concerned parties like council of ministers and Leader of Opposition agree to the name proposed by Chief Justice of the High Court, then new Lokayukta can be appointed in the state within a week’s time.
By-passing the state government, Governor Beniwal had appointed Mehta as Lokayukta on August 25, 2011. This was followed by a legal battle which lasted almost two years as the state government sought to overturn his appointment and contested it till the last remedy of a curative petition was rejected by the Supreme Court.
In his letter to Governor and Chief Justice of the High Court, withdrawing his consent to the post of Lokayukta, Justice Mehta also criticised the Gujarat Lokayukta Bill 2013, passed by the state Assembly in April, which allows a six-member committee headed by the Chief Minister to choose the Lokayukta.
The Bill is pending before Governor’s office for assent.