By admonishing the Union government for delaying the appointment of a Lokpal, the Supreme Court has sent across a timely message that efforts to cleanse the economy must be matched by equally strong measures to cleanse public life too. There can really be no excuse for the failure to establish an institution even three years after passing the relevant law. The only reason for the delay in the appointment of the Lokpal is that a minor amendment to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, to enable the leader of the largest party in the opposition in the Lok Sabha to join the five-member selection committee, is yet to be passed. A parliamentary committee has endorsed the amendment, which is on the same lines as the mechanism for the selection panels for the Central Vigilance Commissioner and the Chief Information Commissioner. The court has indicated that it will not allow the institution to remain inoperative indefinitely, evoking apprehension on the Centre’s part that a judicial direction may be given to get the amendment passed or an ordinance promulgated. The Centre needs to re-examine its own options on implementing the Lokpal Act. The law now provides for a five-member panel to select the anti-corruption ombudsman, comprising the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, the Chief Justice of India and an eminent jurist. The hitch is that there is no recognised LoP in the lower House. The question now is whether the Centre is right in claiming the Congress floor leader cannot hold that post because its bench strength is well short of the required 55.
The rule that the Speaker can recognise as LoP only the leader of the principal opposition party that has 10 per cent of the total number of Lok Sabha seats is based on precedent. It was a ruling by Speaker G.V. Mavalankar, cited in the ‘Directions for the Functioning of the Lok Sabha’, with respect to recognising a group as a ‘parliamentary party’. The only legal provision defining the ‘Leader of the Opposition’ is a 1977 law concerning the office-holder’s salary. The definition says the LoP shall be the leader of the party in opposition with “the greatest numerical strength” and “recognised as such by the Speaker”. Therefore, there is nothing in law that prevents the Speaker from recognising the present Congress Parliamentary Party leader as the LoP. Instead of waiting for the amendment, the Speaker can adopt the solution of recognising the CPP leader and expedite the Lokpal’s formation. It just needs political will and some magnanimity.