The Union government has told the Supreme Court that it has no role in recommending the names of any sitting or retired Supreme Court judges or Chief Justices of High Courts as judicial members of Lokpal.
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) said the Lokpal rules underwent a course correction in 2014 in which the Centre was stripped of its powers to shortlist and recommend names to the Lokpal Search Committee.
Lack of autonomy The amendment had come in September 2014 when former Supreme Court judge Justice K.T. Thomas opted out of heading the Lokpal search committee in March 2014, citing lack of autonomy. Eminent jurist Fali Nariman too had turned down the post of a member of the panel for that reason.
Justice Thomas had objected to the provision that the search committee should only shortlist candidates from a list provided by the department.
The government had notified amendments to the rules, giving autonomy to the Lokpal search committee to shortlist and recommend names independently for selection of Chairman and members of the anti-corruption body.
The DoPT was responding to a PIL plea filed by NGO Common Cause claiming that the entire selection process for Lokpal is “illegal” and smacks of “conflict of interest.”
The NGO, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, had contended that the Centre’s influence in the selection of sitting Supreme Court judges to Lokpal would affect judicial independence.
In this regard, the NGO had in 2014 pointed to the case of four then serving Supreme Court judges who had “expressed their willingness” for being considered to the posts of judicial members of the Lokpal.
“Under the amended provisions of the Rule 10, it is for the Search Committee to decide how to make selections, and the role of the Central Government, under the amended sub-rule (2) of Rule 10 is now limited to providing ‘such assistance as may be required by the Search Committee ... the Central government will not have any role in inviting applications or nominations from any quarter,” the DoPT affidavit, filed in August, said.
Similarly, DoPT said, the rules had also been amended to widen the zone of consideration for non-judicial members. Earlier, only government secretaries were to be considered.
Denying allegations of purposefully delaying the implementation of Lokpal Act of 2013, the Centre said it is actively considering a “paradigm shift” suggested by the Parliamentary Standing Commitee in the structure of the Lokpal.
“The Parliamentary Standing Committee proposes to integrate other statutory anti-corruption bodies like the Central Vigilance Commission in a vertical structure under the Lokpal. The Committee recommendations are under examination of the government,” DoPT said.
The Centre also bowed out of taking any initiative to further the cause of transparency in selection of Lokpal. It said such steps would amount to overstepping its very limited role under the Lokpal law. It said both the Search Committee and high-powered Selection Committee chaired by the Prime Minister are expected to regulate their own procedure in a transparent manner.