Apex court slams Centre over Lokpal

Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi. File photo

Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi. File photo

For a government which “seems to be always interested in cleansing the system,” the Centre has been uncharacteristically “dragging its feet” on the appointment of anti-corruption ombudsman, Lokpal, to usher in probity in public life, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act has not seen the light of day since it was made into law in 2013. Subsequent amendments to the Act are in limbo.

One of these amendments is to make the leader of the single largest Opposition party in the House a part of the high-profile search committee to appoint the Lokpal in case there is no recognised Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha. Currently, the 16th Lok Sabha has no recognised LoP.

“So, this means the Act would remain languishing. Tell us, will you allow this law to become redundant just because there is no LoP,” the court asked the government. A Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur asked whether the Lokpal amendment could be implemented by way of an ordinance.

Questioning the political will of the government to appoint the Lokpal, the court asked whether the Lokpal amendment could be implemented by way of an ordinance. “This can be done to at least remove the misgivings in the minds of the people that this government is not interested in Lokpal ... this government seems to be always interested in cleansing the system ... ,” Chief Justice Thakur said.

Taking the cue, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi stressed that demonetisation was indeed an effort to cleanse the system.

“Then why are you dragging your feet on Lokpal? This is also a step in the right direction. The Lokpal law was the result of a great struggle for probity,” the Chief Justice said.

The Bench pointed out that the leader of the single largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha, in case of an absentee LoP, has found a place in other high-profile appointments of institutional integrity like the Central Vigilance Commissioner.

Mr. Rohatgi submitted that the court should not just assume that Parliament would not pass the amendment.

“Whether Parliament passes the amendment Bill or not, we will not allow the institution [Lokpal] to remain vacant for five years. If an institution is intended to bring probity in public life, that institution must be put to work,” the Chief Justice said.

Senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner NGO Common Cause in the writ petition, submitted that the court should not leave it to the political parties to pass the Lokpal. “They will frustrate the Lokpal and make Lokpal totally innocuous. This court should give the directions to Parliament to amend the law,” Mr. Bhushan submitted.

Objecting to this, Mr. Rohatgi said the judiciary could not direct the legislature to pass an amendment, and such an order would amount to judicial legislation by the Supreme Court.

“You mean that the court cannot pass any directions, and at the same time, you will not legislate. How can that be done Mr. Attorney-General?” Chief Justice Thakur asked.

Mr. Rohatgi submitted that an ordinance could not be brought in as Parliament was in session. The top law officer said he would take instructions. The court has scheduled the hearing for December 7.

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Printable version | May 29, 2022 2:39:17 am |