No barrier to naming Lokpal: SC

‘Opposition leader’s absence no hurdle’

Published - April 28, 2017 01:10 am IST - NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court on Thursday found the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013 an “eminently workable piece of legislation”, which provides for the appointment of Lokpal Chairperson and members even in the absence of a recognised Leader of Opposition (LoP).

The judgment goes against the very logic of the government’s argument that appointment of Lokpal Chairperson and members is not currently possible, and would have to wait till the 2013 Act is amended to replace the LoP with the single largest Opposition party leader.

Under the 2013 Act, the appointments to Lokpal are made by a high-level selection committee of the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, LoP, Chief Justice of India and an eminent jurist chosen by them.

As the 16th Lok Sabha does not have a recognised LoP — the Congress could not get the required 10% membership in the Lok Sabha in the 2014 parliamentary polls — the implementation of the Lokpal Act was stalled.

But the judgment authored by Justice Ranjan Gogoi differs. Highlighting India’s commitment to ‘zero tolerance against corruption’, the court said an existing law cannot be put on hold merely because Parliament is working on a better law.

Instead, the court pointed to sub-section (2) of Section 4 of the original 2013 Lokpal Act, which makes it clear that an appointment of the Chairperson or Members of Lokpal will not be invalidated merely because one of the members of the Selection Committee — the LoP — is missing.

Thus, the available members of the Lopal Selection Committee could recommend suitable persons to the President for appointment to the Lokpal.

If an appointment process done by a “truncated” Lokpal Selection Committee is already recognised under the 2013 Act, why should the government wait for any amendments at all, asked the Supreme Court.

Quoting Justice Krishna Iyer, the judgment described the Lokpal Act 2013 as “an eminently workable piece of legislation and there is no justification to keep the enforcement of the Act under suspension till the amendments, as proposed, are carried out”.

Justice Gogoi wrote that bettering a legislation is “a perpetual and ongoing exercise dictated by the experiences gained on the working of the Act”, but that does not mean the existing Act of Parliament should come to a halt.

But having said that, the Supreme Court added that it could not push the issue any further. It said no matter how strongly the populace feels about the imminent need for the Lokpal law and its beneficial effects on the citizenry of a democratic country, it cannot overstep its jurisdiction and encroach into the legislative domain.

Lokpal and Lokayuktas and Other Related Law (Amendment) Bill, 2014, containing the proposed amendments in the law has been gathering dust from the date of its introduction in parliament on December 18, 2014.

Though a Parliamentary Standing Committee submitted its report on December 3, 2015, fully supporting the amendment to replace the LoP with the single largest opposition party leader in the Lok Sabha, the law is yet to see the light of the day. This is despite the fact that India ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption way back in May 2011.

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