Days after Fali Nariman declined to be part of the process to pick India’s first Lokpal, the government suffered a second embarrassment in the matter — retired Supreme Court judge K T Thomas, who headed the search panel, quit, saying the committee lacked independence.
In a letter sent to the Prime Minister’s Office, Justice (retd) Thomas withdrew his “willingness” to head the search panel, saying, “Why there should be a Search Committee at all?… When the Selection Committee itself can decide on who should be the members of Lokpal…”
With Nariman and Thomas quitting, the eight-member search panel now has two vacancies.
Sources in the government said Thomas’s resignation has placed the government in a difficult position, because the appointment of the head of the search committee needs the consent of the selection committee, of which Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are members. With the PM away in Myanmar, the government has little time to convene a meeting before elections are announced and the model code comes into force — expected any day now.
BJP leaders said the Leaders of Opposition in both Houses were likely to write to the Chief Election Commissioner over the delay in announcing elections. In 2009, the code of conduct had come into effect on March 3.
As per the Lokpal selection process, the selection committee comprising the PM, Swaraj, Speaker Meira Kumar, Supreme Court Justice H L Dattu (representative of the Chief Justice of India), and jurist P P Rao (the fifth member) must set up a search committee to shortlist possible candidates. However, the government has forwarded a list of 305 names to the search committee, asking it to pick a shortlist from the list.
Thomas has said that he had second thoughts after Nariman declined to join the search panel. “The current selection process would overlook the most competent, the most independent and the most courageous,” Nariman said in his letter, sent to the PMO last Thursday.
Thomas had written: “When I went through the Rules I have come to realize that the work of the Search Committee is to pick out names of persons from the list provided by the Central Government.
“I have reservations in accepting the Chairmanship of the Search Committee. I do not consider it worthwhile to travel such a long distance from my hometown Kottayam in Kerala far up to New Delhi and spend many days to make a panel from the list forwarded by the DoPT of the Central government. The Search Committee cannot make any independent search to find out the most deserving persons to be included in the panel.”
Thomas, who lives in Kerala, was picked to head the search panel comprising 7 others.