The Supreme Court Thursday “requested” the Lokpal search committee, constituted to suggest names for appointment of the country’s first anti-corruption ombudsman, to complete its task and submit a panel of names by February-end.
A bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices L Nageswara Rao and S K Kaul also directed the government to provide all infrastructure and facilities that the panel requires to complete its job.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by NGO Common Cause, seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against the government for delaying the appointment of the Lokpal despite a court order.
On January 4, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to apprise it on the steps taken so far to set up a search committee for selection of the Lokpal.
CJI Gogoi told Attorney General K K Venugopal, who appeared for the government Thursday, that a search committee headed by a retired Supreme Court had been set up last September. He sought to know “between September and now, how many times has the committee met”.
Ombudsman not far away
The deadline for the Lokpal search committee is a significant step in the direction of establishing the anti-graft watchdog. Names suggested by the panel will be vetted by a committee comprising the PM, Speaker, CJI, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, and an eminent jurist.
The Attorney General replied it had met Wednesday and cited difficulties in the form of lack of infrastructure and staff. He said though money had been allotted, the committee was yet to get a premises or staff.
Venugopal said it would be better for the committee to have a secretariat so that the court could issue directions to it from time to time. The bench then asked if the committee had fixed a time schedule to fulfil its task. Venugopal replied in the negative, following which the court came out with the directions.
Calling the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 an eminently workable piece of legislation, the Supreme Court in 2017 said there was no justification to keep its enforcement suspended till certain amendments, including one on the issue of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha being a member of the selection committee, were cleared by Parliament. The 2017 direction also said that the Act “does not create any bar to the enforcement of the provisions”.
Under The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, the Lokpal chairperson will be a serving or former CJI/Judge of the Supreme Court or an eminent person “of impeccable integrity and outstanding ability” with domain knowledge, expertise of not less than 25 years.