The Centre has informed the Supreme Court that application by sitting judges for appointment as Lokpal will not compromise judiciary’s independence since the government does not have a role in the selection process anymore.
Submitting its affidavit on Thursday, in response to a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause, the government said the role of the executive was circumscribed to merely facilitating the selection process, and hence there was no question of conflict of interest.
The affidavit stated that the Lokpal rules have been amended and notified to give a free hand to search and selection committees to consider names outside the list provided by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT).
The NGO’s counsel, Prashant Bhushan, had in 2014 referred to an application by four sitting Supreme Court judges for their appointment as Lokpal or its judicial members. He contended that their candidature, although permitted under the Act, will compromise the independence of the judiciary because the government, the biggest litigant before the top court, will be considering their names.
In its affidavit, the government said: “The ground raised does not survive anymore as the relevant provisions of Rule 10 have been amended… the role of the government is limited now to providing such assistance as may be required by the search committee in efficient discharge of its functions…the central government will have no role in inviting applications or nominations from any quarter.”
The search committee will shortlist and recommend names to the selection committee, which is to be headed by the PM, and will include Speaker of Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition or Leader of the single largest opposition party in Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India or a sitting Supreme Court judge nominated by him, and a jurist nominated by the President on the basis of recommendations of the first four members.
The government, however, countered the NGO’s suggestion to lay down guidelines for the search and selection committees for appointing the Lokpal and its members, arguing that it was beyond the scope of the statute and that the selection committee must have the independence to regulate its own procedure in a transparent manner.
The government has also opposed any directive to make the applications public and invite information about the names, saying it was neither advisable nor workable. It denied that there was any inaction on the government’s part in appointing the Lokpal and pointed out that “constraints in appointment” were due to various pertinent amendments awaiting Parliament’s nod.
The earlier rules, put in place by the UPA government, had constrained the search committee to only consider names recommended by the DoPT. The amendments had come as a course correction after former Supreme Court judge Justice K T Thomas opted out from heading the search committee in March 2014, citing lack of autonomy. Eminent jurist Fali S Nariman had turned down the post of a member of the panel for the same reason.