The Punjab Government appointed Justice J. S. Sekhon (Retd) as the State’s Lok Pal this past week. The appointment has come in for almost immediate criticism from the Opposition Congress and others who are alleging moral impropriety because Justice Sekhon is the brother of Punjab’s Irrigation Minister Janmeja Singh Sekhon. Under the Punjab Lok Pal Act, the Lok Pal is only authorised to look into complaints of corruption against Ministers and legislators.

Justice Sekhon’s appointment came two days after the State government gave a commitment before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, that it would do so, during the resumed hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) on the failure of the government to appoint a new Lok Pal since April 1, when the previous Lok Pal demitted office. The PIL filed by advocate H.C. Arora had stated that instead of appointing a Lok Pal, the government had removed the registrar, joint registrar, a reader and personal assistant, in the office of the anti-corruption body which has made it practically non-functional as there is no one to conduct routine scrutiny and recommend complaints for investigation. More than seven months have passed since the office fell vacant and there are more than 100 complaints against former and present legislators and Ministers which are pending before the Lok Pal, the PIL had stated.

A government statement announcing Justice Sekhon’s appointment said that the proposal of his appointment was mooted by the Punjab Chief Minister after due deliberations with the Chief Justice of Punjab & Haryana High Court and the Speaker of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha as mandated under section 4 of the Punjab Lok Pal Act. The Sekhon brothers are also distantly related to the Chief Minister.

However, speaking to The Hindu, Mr Arora said: “It appears that the facts about Justice Sekhon were not brought before the Chief Justice, while seeking his concurrence, because if it had been so, he may not have approved of the appointment. It is fair to assume that the Chief Justice, being new to this region, was not aware of the family links of Justice Sekhon with the political dispensation in Punjab.”

Meanwhile, Sunil Jakhar, Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Vidhan Sabha, has said that, “for the sake of moral and judicial propriety Justice Sekhon should have declined to be the Punjab Lok Pal as his brother Janmeja Singh Sekhon is a Minister in the Punjab Government.”

Raising questions about the mode and timing of the appointment of Lok Pal in Punjab, Mr. Jakhar, in a statement issued here, said the sudden appointment of Justice Sekhon appeared to be an attempt to circumvent the provisions of the Central Lok Pal Act, which is likely to be approved by Parliament in the coming session. The appointment process in the proposed Central Lok Pal Act provides for the Leader of the Opposition to be taken into confidence, and by choosing to make this hurried appointment, the government is clearly trying to defeat the spirit and purpose of the new Central Lok Pal Act, and put their own man on the post, said Mr. Jakhar. He pointed out that the Act has been passed by the Lok Sabha and remains to be passed by the Rajya Sabha. He further said that Justice Sekhon’s appointment defied judicial propriety, because, if a complaint comes against his own brother Janmeja Sekhon there will be doubts whether the Lok Pal will act and decide the case in an impartial manner.

Justice Sekhon has been a Judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court, a member of the Punjab State Human Rights Commission and also Chief Commissioner Gurdwara Elections Commission. He was also nominated as a member of the Haryana Jail Reforms Commission.