The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions seeking the appointment of a Lokpal in the country even as the Centre argued that the appointment was not possible without amending a law. “We have heard the arguments of all the parties. Judgment (is) reserved,” said a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha. During the hearing, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, representing the Centre, contended that the Lokpal cannot be appointed in the current scenario since amendments regarding the definition of the Leader of Opposition in the Lokpal Act was pending before Parliament.
Under Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha will be part of the Lokpal selection panel. Citing this provision, the government has been harping on the argument that since there was no Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Lok Sabha, the selection process for Lokpal would have to wait until necessary amendments are brought about in the law to substitute Leader of Opposition with the leader of the single largest party in opposition. “Unless the proposed amendment making Leader of the largest Opposition party as Leader of Opposition is passed by Parliament, the Lokpal cannot be appointed,” Rohatgi said.
Senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, appearing for petitioner NGO Common Cause, said even though the Lokpal Act came into force in 2014, the anti-corruption ombudsman was not being appointed by the government with an ulterior motive. Bhushan and advocate Gopal Sankarnarayanan, who appeared for a similar petition, complained that amendment to this law was deliberately put on hold as the government has already amended various other statutes, including those for selection of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, the CBI chief and Chief Information Commi-ssioner to substitute Leader of Opposition with the leader of the single largest party in opposition.
The lawyers said that the apex court should read down the Lokpal Act so that the selection process begins immediately. In December last, a bench led by then CJI T S Thakur had said that it would not let the Lokpal become “a dead letter” or “redundant”. It asked the Centre why it had not made the appointment in the last two years if it was really concerned about checking corruption and bringing probity in public life.
In Lok Sabha, the largest opposition, Congress, has 45 members, less than the requisite 10 per cent of total 545 seats to name a Leader of Opposition. This is why the Act needs to be amended.