Government should not push through a Lokpal even as the appointment process is under a cloud.
The unseemly hurry with which the government — in its last days, even as the polling process is on — is trying to push through the appointment of the Lokpal reinforces the doubts about the proposed watchdog’s independence. On Tuesday, this paper reported that the prime minister’s office was prodding the Lokpal selection committee to meet later this month to appoint the chairperson and other members. Right from January, when the UPA moved to appoint the ombudsman, its selection process has been mired in controversy.
First, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj expressed her disagreement with the government’s nomination of P.P. Rao to the selection committee. Then, eminent jurist Fali S. Nariman refused to join the Lokpal search committee, and made it clear to the government that its selection procedure was not the best way of constituting a “vital and important” institution. “I do fear that the most competent, the most independent, and the most courageous will get overlooked” by the process, he wrote. Subsequently, the head of the search committee, K.T. Thomas, put in his papers.
Given that the search committee simply had to choose from candidates vetted by the Department of Personnel and Training, Justice Thomas saw no reason to spend his energies “making a panel from a list forwarded by… the Central government”.
With two key positions, including its chair, remaining vacant, it is unclear what role the search committee will now play in the appointment process. The government has done little to address the concerns raised by Nariman and Thomas. As it was, the DoPT’s method of “inviting” applications for the post of Lokpal chair and members was questionable.
Candidates, including sitting Supreme Court judges, had to submit their resumes, and — in 200 words, no more — were required to state why they were eligible to hold the high office, along with a “letter of recommendation” from an individual associated with “anti-corruption” issues. Both the rules for the constitution of the search committee as well as its role are now under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.
The UPA does not seem to have thought the Lokpal through. The bill’s hurried passage in Parliament, and now the government’s inordinate haste to push it through, confirm the anxieties about the institutional design of a “supercop” for corruption and its efficacy.