Lokayukta appointee writes to Gujarat Governor
Despite having won a pitched legal battle over his appointment as Gujarat Lokayukta, Justice R.A. Mehta has decided not to accept the post, saying it is pointless to work with a “reluctant government” that had waged a relentless and expensive court fight against him.
The Narendra Modi government had moved the court against Justice Mehta’s appointment by Governor Kamla Beniwal but lost the legal battle.
In a seven-page letter to Gujarat High Court Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Governor, he said, “A Lokayukta unwanted by the government cannot get all the necessary and timely support. How can I take responsibility when my objectivity and credibility are not accepted by the government and public functionaries whose conduct the Lokayukta may have to investigate?”
The retired judge asserted, “Forty-five of crores of public money is said to have been spent by the Gujarat government in this litigation. Humongously disproportionate figure by any standard.”
He went on, “I may be called hyper-sensitive, touchy, timid, shirking and what not. Some may even allege that I have been won over, purchased, threatened and what not! I have very great respect for their views. I have been seriously considering all along, but I could not persuade myself to accept the office of Lokayukta.”
Despite three Supreme Court orders, the government’s reluctance to notify the appointment was “surprising, but not unexpected.”
Justice Mehta said the government’s letter to him said he was appointed by the Governor and his swearing-in had to be organised in the Raj Bhavan or at Governor’s home. He wondered, “As if the government has no interest or role in the matter!”
He said, “When Hon’ble the then Chief Justice Mr. Justice S.J. Mukhopadhyay kindly invited me two years ago for my consent for this purpose [of taking over as Lokayukta], and discussed, I was not interested, having no ambition or desire, and was reluctant, being averse to any controversy.”
Justice Mehta wrote, “With kindness and great persuasion I was given to understand that the choice would be unanimous and without any objection from any quarter including the State government. I had my own reason to believe that [it has turned out to be wrong] and I had consented at some personal sacrifice thinking that I could serve very useful public purpose and having a hope that the Gujarat Lokayukta Act, 1986, could be upgraded and made really effective and strong in line with universal public opinion and consensus in the country.”
He added, “Soon it became clear that the public functionaries [whose conduct the Lokayukta may have to investigate] had strong objections against my appointment as the Gujarat Lokayukta. It was said that I had ‘anti-government bias’. From that moment I have been brooding: To be or not to be the Lokayukta. The answer has not been easy. Highly respected elders and friends have with great force and persuasion suggested that I must accept. My thinking is to the contrary.”
The Lokayukta post had been vacant since 2003 before Justice Mehta was selected. The government protested against the selection, insisting that the Cabinet was not consulted and alleged that the judge was prejudiced against the government. The Chief Minister had even accused the Governor of working at the behest of the Congress-led Union government.
The issue was first fought in the Gujarat High Court, where the State lost. The decision was challenged in the Supreme Court which, in January, upheld the High Court order. The Modi government then filed a curative petition but this too was rejected by the apex court last month, clearing the decks for Justice Mehta to take over.
Hitting out strongly at the Modi government, he said: “I humbly believe that the high office of Lokayukta and its occupant [who is expected to inquire into the complaints against high pubic functionaries, including the Chief Minister] are entitled to utmost respect, dignity and grace to enable them to function effectively and perform the great public duty and to carry public credibility of the institution. When powerful elements do not care to maintain that effectiveness and credibility, the institution and its occupant suffer in their credibility, effectiveness and utility.”