The drama and politics over the appointment of the Uttar Pradesh Lokayukta had been on in the state for more than a year before the Supreme Court, in an extraordinary step on December 16, 2015, chose Justice (retd) Virendra Singh, a former judge of the Allahabad High Court, from a list of names sent by the SP government for the post.
Almost immediately, Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud of Allahabad High Court protested, writing to Governor Ram Naik against the inclusion of Justice Virendra Singh’s name in the list sent to the Supreme Court. He said this was done despite his objections and an assurance from Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav that Singh would not be on the panel.
The Lokayukta is chosen by a selection committee comprising the Chief Minister, Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice of the High Court.
Citing Justice Chandrachud’s letter, a plea was moved in the Supreme Court and, on being questioned by the court, the UP government decided to defer Singh’s swearing-in until the matter is heard next on January 19.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express give a bizarre account of how Uttar Pradesh went about the process. Consider these:
* When Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Leader of Opposition Swami Prasad Maurya met on January 28, 2015 to consider a name for Lokayukta, the list before them included at least 30 dead judges. The oldest among them had retired in 1951.
* There were 396 names for consideration: 41 former Chief Justices of India, 28 sitting Supreme Court judges, 150 former Supreme Court judges, 76 sitting judges of Allahabad High Court and 101 former High Court judges. But the Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition agreed on only one name — Justice (retd) Ravindra Singh.
* Chief Justice Chandrachud wrote six letters to Akhilesh Yadav, seeking a meeting or raising objections over the CM’s choice for Lokayukta.
* Governor Ram Naik wrote three letters to the Chief Minister, reminding him that he must meet the Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice together for consultation.
* In one letter, the Governor referred to the Chief Minister’s “adamancy” over Justice Ravindra Singh’s name and “forcing” the Chief Justice to agree to his choice.
* The Chief Minister wrote to the Chief Justice that it is “not possible nor feasible” to continue consultations with him.
Documents show the Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition first met in November 2014. The Chief Secretary then sought from the High Court Registrar General names of High Court judges who had retired between January 1 and December 31, 2014 and those who would be retiring in 2015. The Registrar General sought a clarification, saying not only these judges but also all sitting and retired Supreme Court and High Court judges were also eligible for appointment.
On January 28, 2015, the Chief Minister sent a letter to Justice Chandrachud, informing him that he and the Leader of Opposition had nominated Justice Ravindra Singh as the next Lokayukta.
On February 12, Justice Chandrachud wrote back, pointing out that the Lokayukta’s tenure was for 8 years and so it was of utmost importance to shortlist some names and the final choice should be made jointly by the selection committee, based on high ranking and integrity of an individual. He said he was willing to meet the Chief Minister at a convenient date and time for consultation.
On April 10, Akhilesh Yadav wrote to Justice Chandrachud, reiterating Justice Ravindra Singh’s name. He referred to the minutes of the meeting held between him and Maurya.
On April 17, Justice Chandrachud informed the Chief Minister that the list he and Maurya considered included 20 former CJIs who were no more and other former SC and HC judges who had passed away. Questioning fairness and objectivity, the Chief Justice said there was nothing to indicate the basis on which Justice Ravindra Singh, who was then a sitting judge, was selected from among 396 sitting and retired judges.
Justice Chandrachud pointed out that Justice Ravindra Singh belongs to Mainpuri, the home turf of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, and that his brother and two sons had been in a panel of lawyers of the SP government. “I am firmly of the view that a person who has such a close affiliation to the ruling political party in the state government should not be nominated to the post of Lokayukta,” Justice Chandrachud wrote, rejecting the nomination.
On June 11 Akhilesh Yadav, in his letter, told the Chief Justice that the UP Lokayukta Act did not prescribe any specific procedure and that it would not be correct to limit them to any fixed selection process. Asking Justice Chandrachud to agree to Justice Ravindra Singh’s name, the CM said Singh’s personal details “have no bearing on his appointment”.
On July 1, Justice Chandrachud replied that since he was unable to persuade his conscience, he was again rejecting Justice Singh’s name again. The Chief Justice also requested the Chief Minister to shortlist some names and decide by consensus. On the same day, Justice Ravindra Singh retired as a High Court judge.
On July 18, Justice Chandrachud and Akhilesh Yadav had a meeting but there was still no panel of names and the former refused to agree to Justice Singh’s name.
Meanwhile, as the six month-deadline set by the Supreme Court in April 2014 to appoint the new Lokayukta lapsed, a contempt petition was filed. On July 23, the court asked UP to complete the task in 30 days.
Referring to this order, Justice Chandrachud wrote again to Akhilesh Yadav on July 29, requesting him to prepare a list of names and have a meeting of the selection committee.
But on August 4, the Chief Minister reiterated that there had been “thorough” deliberation between him and Maurya who “reflected the perception of the people at large” in recommending Justice Ravindra Singh’s name.
On August 6, Justice Chandrachud told the UP CM that his statement was “a reflection of fundamental flaw in the process” and that there had been no meeting in which all three members of the selection committee sat together.
At this stage, Governor Ram Naik entered the fray. On August 20, he reminded the Chief Minister that consultation with the Chief Justice was a must. Naik said that the Leader of Opposition too had written saying he did not know about the disagreement on Justice Singh’s name, that any decision taken contrary to the Lokayukta Act would be invalid.
But on August 22, Akhilesh Yadav wrote to the Chief Justice that “almost nine months have been spent in this process and now it is not possible nor feasible to start this exercise afresh after the decision of the state cabinet”. He said Justice Ravindra Singh’s recommendation was again being sent to the Governor.
On August 24, the Governor wrote to the Chief Minister that the episode “goes to reflect the mere adamancy and amounts to forcing the other two consultees, particularly the Chief Justice, to necessarily agree on the sole name of the CM’s recommendee, Justice Ravindra Singh”. Naik also referred to “huge taints” against Singh and declined the CM’s recommendation again.
The UP government responded by bringing an amendment Bill on August 28, removing the requirement to consult the Chief Justice in the selection of the Lokayukta. After it was passed by the Assembly, the Bill was sent for approval to the Governor.
But the Governor sat over the Bill and the Supreme Court issued strictures against the state government over the delay in the Lokayukta’s appointment. The Chief Minister then called a meeting with the Chief Justice on September 27. Informed that the proposed amendment envisaged no role for the Chief Justice in the selection process, Justice Chandrachud placed on record his reservation against completing the selection process.
On December 14, the Supreme Court questioned the state government’s “agenda” and gave it two days to appoint the new Lokayukta. Consequently, the Chief Minister, Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice had an almost five-hour-long meeting on December 15 but failed to reach a consensus.
They again met on December 16 at 9.30 am but since there was no meeting ground, they decided to reconvene. But around 1 pm, the Supreme Court chose Justice (retd) Virendra Singh’s name from a list of five names, purportedly shortlisted by the selection committee. The court was also that the Chief Justice had no name to recommend.
But in his letter to the Governor the same day, the Chief Justice said he had proposed five names for a discussion, that the Chief Minister had reservations on one. During the meeting on December 15, Akhilesh Yadav suggested the name of Justice (retd) Virendra Singh but, Justice Chandrachud said, he objected to the name “on grounds of integrity”.
When they met on the morning of December 16, Justice Chandrachud said, the Chief Minister said Justice (retd) Virendra Singh’s name was not pressed or proposed by the state government anymore. The deliberations zeroed in on the name of a sitting High Court judge and the Chief Justice said he would revert at 5 pm, after court hours.
On December 29, the state government issued a press release stating that Justice (retd) Virendra Singh’s was the first name to be discussed at the meetings on December 15-16.