The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to justify its rules on the appointment of the Lokpal and other members of the proposed anti-corruption body.
The court, which maintained that the issue required consideration, expressed concern over two specific rules. One, pertaining to constraining the search committee to look for the chairperson and members of the Lokpal only from the list provided to it by the Department of Personnel and Training and, two, pertaining to the appointment of members of the Lokpal.
The second rule states that a member must have held, or must be holding, the post of secretary to the Government of India, or equivalent under the central or a state government.
“You (government) have taken a position that nobody except a secretary-level officer can be appointed as a member. So a person like a CBI director, who you have already declined a secretary-level rank (during hearing in the coal allocation case), will never be eligible. Therefore, somebody who has dealt with anti-corruption matters for all his life will be excluded.
“Similarly, several other people who may be dealing with public administration and law day in and day out will be excluded because they have not been bureaucrats… This matter will require our consideration. You (government) justify your rules,” a bench of Justices R M Lodha and Kurian Joseph said, while seeking the government’s response in four weeks.
The court refrained from passing a formal order staying the entire selection process after the government said that the process stood virtually stalled as on date after the members of the search committee quit.
Retired Supreme Court judge Justice K T Thomas and jurist Fali S Nariman, who were offered the posts of chairman and member of the search committee respectively, had declined to be on the panel.
During the proceeding, the bench asked Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran what was happening with the process of appointing the Lokpal. Parasaran replied that the government was not acting on the Search Committee Rules, which were under challenge in a PIL by NGO Common Cause, since some of those offered posts in the committee had declined to come on board.
Counsel for Common Cause Prashant Bhushan flagged the contentious rules during the hearing. He asserted that the restriction on the Search Committee to pick people only from a list drawn up by the DoPT was against the spirit of the Lokpal Act, and that the rule was enacted only to ensure that the government would control everything.
Bhushan also pointed out that another rule on the selection of non-judicial members from serving and retired bureaucrats was against the Act, and it would exclude several competent people from appointment as members. The bench concurred with his submission.
The PIL has sought a declaration that certain provisions of the rules were ultra vires of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, and quashing of the entire selection process initiated under the rules, alleging that it was “illegal, arbitrary”, and violative of Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution.