Author- Somya Tiwari, [ILS Law College, Pune]
The Supreme Court directed the search committee to rap-up the task entrusted to them by the February end. Earlier this year, the Committee was formulated for the very purpose of making suggestions on names of the members and the chairperson of the anti-corruption ombudsman Lok Pal but didn’t ever met since its formulation.
The apex court issued a deadline for the search committee to recommend the panel of names for the position for country’s first anti-corruption ombudsman Lokpal by the end of February. The search committee was appointed by the Selection Committee comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, leader of the largest opposition party, which in this case was Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge, and eminent jurist Mukul Rohatgi so that the appointment could take place at the Earliest. The search committee comprising of former Supreme Court judge, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, who was appointed the chairperson and seven other members were formulated on 28th September 2018. Since the Committee not even met once after its formulation, serious questions were raised regarding the work of the search committee. The issue came in the purview of the Supreme Court by Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO Common Cause, and heard by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices L Nageswara Rao and Sanjay Kishan Kaul.
Mr. K.K Venugopal, appearing for the centre put forth the defence from the side of the committee, that certain problems like lack of infrastructure and manpower raised, due to which the panel was not able to hold deliberations on the issue. The centre was then directed to fix the problems so that the committee can complete the delegated work on time. The court will hear the matter again on March 7. The other seven members of the search committee are, former State Bank of India chief Arundhati Bhattacharya, Prasar Bharati chairperson A. Surya Prakash and former Indian Space Research Organisation head A.S. Kiran Kumar are the members of the search committee, Former judge of the Allahabad High Court, Justice Sakha Ram Singh Yadav; former Gujarat Police head, Shabbirhusein S Khandwawala; retired IAS officer of Rajasthan cadre, Lalit K Panwar; and Ranjit Kumar. Earlier, on July 24th, the top court had rejected the centre’s submission on the issue of setting up of a search committee for the Lokpal as “wholly unsatisfactory” and demanded a “better affidavit”. The court was told that the selection committee members had met on July 19, 2018, to deliberate upon names for members of the search committee. Mallikarjun Kharge , Congress lawmaker and leader of the single largest party in opposition in Lok Sabha, was also invited for the meeting but he had declined to attend it saying he was invited by the government as a “special invitee” without rights of participation.
The need to appoint the Lokpal was raised by the Lok Pal and Lokayukta bill 2013 after a nationwide campaign by social activist Anna Hazare that included Arvind Kejrival and Prashant Bhushan, to which the president gave his assent on 1 January 2014. The Bill demands the appointment of anti-corruption ombudsman called Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta at the State-level. The Lokpal will comprise of a chairperson and a maximum of eight members. The Lokpal will cover all categories of public servants, including the Prime Minister Except the armed forces. The Act also institute provisions for attachment and confiscation of property acquired by corrupt and illegal means, even while the prosecution is pending. The States will have to institute Lokayukta within one year of the commencement of the Act and it was mandatory for all the public servants to disclose their assets and liabilities including that of close family members and to try by the Special Courts which will be instituted solely to deal with cases referred by the Lokpal. The act also protects the public servants who will act as a whistleblower. A lot of controversies rose regarding the ambit of the bill which proposed to include even the prime minister within it and even has the superintendence over any investigating agency including CBI. So far 18 states have enacted the laws to set up Lokayukta.
Also point to be noted that, a major step towards the appointment of the selection committee was taken despite the vacant seat of the opposition leader in Lok Sabha. As per the Lokayukta act, the only leader of opposition in Lok Sabha is a member of selecting committee and since Mallikarjun Kharge doesn’t have that status and even the Congress doesn’t have enough members to make the cut. Enactment of Lokpal is considered to be a major step taken in the direction to curb corruption which is already spread to the root of the administrative departments and government offices.