With no recognised Leader of Opposition (LOP) in the Lok Sabha, the Supreme Court on Friday took it upon itself to interpret the term LOP for the purposes of various important appointments and said it would not wait for the government to amend the laws.
Hearing a PIL on the appointment of Lokpal, a bench led by Chief Justice of India R M Lodha noted that the five-member panel for selection of India’s first Lokpal envisaged existence of the LOP and hence the statutory provision required a proper interpretation so that the Lokpal law remains effective.
“Such an important law will be rendered meaningless… it will be frustrated if statutory requirements are not met. The Act cannot be kept in cold storage if problems have emerged. Leader of Opposition is a significant position in House of people. He is a voice representing views contrary to government and gives objective considerations (in selection process). Parliament may not have envisaged such a situation but it now needs to be interpreted so that the process is fast-tracked,” observed the bench.
When Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said that as the position stood today, the post of LOP would remain vacant in such selection panels, the bench, also comprising Justices Kurian Jospeh and Rohinton F Nariman, said that the government’s stand warranted an interpretation of the term LOp.
“If vacuum remains till the Legislature decides to intervene and such a position continues, proper interpretation has to be given. Otherwise, the Act will be rendered ineffective. Lokpal is not the only statute where mandatory consultation with the Leader of Opposition is mandated but there are several others too. We are not waiting for any amendment or any session of Parliament. We will interpret it if the government does not do it by the next date of hearing,” said the bench while fixing the matter for final disposal on September 9.
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The court added: “If a statute pre-supposes existence of the Leader of Opposition, some interpretation has to be given so that there is somebody in this position for proper working of the statute. It is a very important post. Tell us if you are not willing to amend the laws and we will interpret it since prolonging this will not help anybody.”
The bench said that not having a LOp will lead to having no objective criteria in the manner of selection and very basis of composition of selection committee would be exposed to fundamental problems.
LoP is a member of selection panel for selecting not only Lokpal but also Central Vigilance Commissioner, CBI Director, National Human Rights Chairperson. The issue has cropped up in the court at a time when the leader of the Congress group has been denied recognition as Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
When asked if the government was going to amend the provision in the Act, the AG said the entire Lokpal Act and its rules were being reviewed by the new government while turning down a proposition that leader of the second largest party could be considered as the LOp for the purposes of such appointments. Rohatgi said the government was considering everything but the decision making would take some time and hence no categorical reply could be given to the court at this juncture.
At this, counsel for petitioner NGO Common Cause Prashant Bhushan said that if amendment to the law was being contemplated, nothing will move at least till November when the next Parliament session is convened.
The bench responded that it would hear the PIL on merits on September 9, without waiting for any amendment. The PIL has challenged the selection process while also demanding more transparency in the manner of appointments.