The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to place before it a copy of the report of a Parliamentary standing committee suggesting amendments to the Lokpal law and wanted to know about the changes required to make the anti-graft ombudsman functional.
“Besides replacing leader of opposition (LoP) with the leader of the largest oppoisition party of Lok Sabha in the selection panel for Lokpal, tell us what are the areas where you (Centre) need to make changes (in the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act),” a bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur said.
The bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswar Rao, asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre, to file a copy of the report of the parliamentary panel on changes suggested in the statute and fixed the PIL filed by NGO ‘Common Cause’ for further hearing on December 14.
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At the outset, Rohatgi said he had conveyed the views of the court to the highest authority that it ‘cannot go on like this’ and assured the bench that the process would be ‘expeditied’.
He said besides substituting LoP with the leader of the largest opposition party in Lok Sabha in the law, there was the need to bring more changes.
Senior advocate Shanti Bhushan and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, said the Lokpal law has been passed after a long struggle and the government is doing nothing to make it funcitonal.
“Here is a law which was enacted three years ago after a long battle. It is the duty of the government and the court to ensure that the law is enforced,” Shanti Bhushan said.
The Attorney General opposed the contention that the leader of largest opposition party in Lok Sabha can be regarded as LoP with regard to the Lokpal Act.
As per the provision, the largest opposition party has to have 10 per cent of total number of MPs in Lok Sabha to claim the post of LoP and. The amendment to this effect has been pending with Parliament, he said.
Earlier, the court had pulled up the Centre over delay in appointment of Lokpal, saying it should not allow the law to become a “dead letter”. During the hearing, Prashant Bhushan today said the government is relying on the directive of the first Lok Sabha Speaker that to claim the Leader of Opposition’s post, the largest opposition party has to have 10 per cent of the total seats in the lower house.
“If we go by this, then there is no parliamentary party in Lok Sabha except BJP,” he said, adding the court may interpret this aspect that the leader of the largest opposition party would be ragarded as the LoP for the purposes of Lokpal law.
“The whole law has been frustrated for last three years because of this,” he said.
The appointment of anti-corruption ombudsman is hanging in balance since the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, which received Presidential assent on January 1, 2014 because the legislation provides for the LoP to be on the selection committee, but in the present Lok Sabha the largest opposition party does not have the required number of MPs for its leader to be designated as Leader of Opposition.
Earlier, the court had said the requirement of LoP on the panel was “dispensable” and can be substituted with the leader of the largest opposition party.
In Lok Sabha, the largest opposition party Congress has only 45 members and lacks the requisite 10 per cent of total 545 seats, giving rise to the need to amend the present Lokpal Act.
The law provides for selection of chairperson and members of Lokpal by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, LoP in Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India or a sitting SC judge nominated by the him, and an eminent jurist to be nominated by President of India on the basis of recommendations of first four members of selection panel.
The bench is hearing a petition filed by NGO Common Cause which has sought a direction to the Centre to make the appointment of chairperson and members of Lokpal as per the amended rules framed under Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.
The NGO in its plea has also sought a direction to the Centre to ensure that the procedure for selecting the chairperson and members of Lokpal must be transparent as envisaged under the Act.
“The inaction of the government in making the appointment of Lokpal arbitrary and unreasonable and hence violative of Article 14 of the Constitution,” the amended petition of the NGO said.
It also said that one of the ways to ensure total transparency in the selection process was that the panel of persons to be prepared by the search committee for consideration by the selection committee must be placed in public domain.