Till a few months ago, when it was in the opposition, the BJP was vehemently opposed to having on the Lokpal selection panel a senior lawyer, who was described by its top leaders as a Congress “loyalist”. But on Friday, the BJP-led NDA government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, defending the appointment of senior advocate P P Rao as the ‘eminent jurist’ to the panel.
In response to a slew of objections to the manner of appointing India’s first Lokpal, the affidavit by the Department of Personnel and Training said, “It is most respectfully submitted that Parliament has, in its wisdom, after detailed deliberations on this issue, mandated a procedure under which the Chairperson (Prime Minister) and the other three members of the selection committee (Speaker and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India or his nominee) recommend the person to be nominated as the eminent jurist member.”
“It is most respectfully submitted that the nomination of an eminent jurist on the basis of a choice made by such an august collegium may not lead to any serious conflict of interest, as alleged, particularly in view of the fact that under the amended Rules, there would not be any application by the Judges,” it said.
While the government’s affidavit did not name Rao, it specifically replied to the contention in a PIL that had objected to his nomination in the Lokpal selection panel. The affidavit supported the manner of selecting the eminent jurist while referring to Rao’s nomination.
The affidavit said Parliament had consciously decided the members of the Lokpal selection committee and hence there was “nothing illegal” in making such an appointment, and that the matter was “within the exclusive domain of Parliament”.
The selection of Rao had kicked up a controversy with BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, the then Leaders of Opposition in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, targeting the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for “vitiating the process” and blaming the Congress for wanting “to pack the body with loyalists”.
Outraged over non-consideration of names suggested by her in the category of eminent jurist, Swaraj had even met President Pranab Mukherjee in February to register her objections to Singh’s reluctance to forge a consensus on the name of the fifth member for the panel.
In its PIL, NGO ‘Common Cause’ had also raised objections to the nomination of Rao, pointing out that having a practising advocate on the panel will lead to serious conflict of interests since he was appearing before the Supreme Court Judges, who had also made applications for their appointment as the Lokpal and its members.
However, now the Narendra Modi government has said: “If one were to exclude all practising advocates from the category of eminent jurists, it will result in the exclusion of the best talents” under this category.
It requested the court to dismiss the PIL since it had become infructuous in view of the amendment to the Lokpal Rules, notified in the Gazette on August 27.
The affidavit stated under the Amendment Rules, prepared by a committee and approved by Modi, the search committee was not constrained to shortlist members for the Lokpal panel only from the list to be supplied by the DoPT. The search committee, it said, was free to devise its own procedure and pick any person it deemed fit for the selection and the Centre’s role was confined to only assist it.
The government said that under the new mechanism, judges need not formally send applications for the posts in the Lokpal panel anymore, while stressing that nothing more remained in the PIL to be addressed now.