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Date coincidence swirls around Lokpal meeting

- Selection window covers Chief Justice’s retirement day; NGO seeks stay on proceedings

New Delhi, April 19: The striking coincidence of the Lokpal selection panel earmarking dates that cover the retirement day of the highest judge of the land has prompted suggestions that Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam is being considered as the first head of the anti-corruption watchdog.

Justice Sathasivam is to demit office on April 26. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reportedly sounded out the Lokpal selection panel members on their availability between April 24 and 28 to meet and pick the nominees. But the fate of the selection panel meeting itself is uncertain because of a legal tangle.

Justice Sathasivam was not available for comment as he was away in Tamil Nadu. But sources close to him indicated that he would not be averse to occupying the ombudsman’s post.

Other sources, who included a judicial officer, said some judges had filed applications, either for the Lokpal’s post or for its membership.

It could not be confirmed whether Justice Sathasivam is among the applicants but the source close to him said the Chief Justice had not put in any application. The selection panel need not confine itself to applications and can make an offer to a non-applicant, too, if it deems the person fit to hold the position.

The post has now become the subject of animated discussion in legal circles. The NGO Common Cause, which had recently filed a PIL challenging certain provisions of the Lokpal Act, has filed a fresh application seeking a stay on the proposed meeting of the selection panel towards the end of this month.

The NGO, through its counsel and AAP leader Prashant Bhushan, has contended that the decision to convene the meeting was improper, arbitrary and mala fide as the Supreme Court had already listed the original case for hearing on May 5, and the country was in the middle of the Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP has also voiced reservations. It remains to be seen whether Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj, a member of the selection panel, will attend the meeting. If she boycotts it, the meeting is unlikely to be held, a top judicial officer said.

The officer voiced concern over the reported move by four to five judges to formally file applications for the post of Lokpal or its membership. “Such a thing should not have happened. There was no full court meeting to discuss such an important issue,” a judge said, clarifying that he was raising an ethical question and not a legal one as judges are not barred from filing such applications.

The NGO, in its latest application filed on Thursday, said: “It is submitted that the latest move by the government to proceed with the appointment of the chairperson and members of the Lokpal, even while this hon’ble court is seized of the issue of the validity of the rules framed under the Lokpal Act, is not only highly improper but also illegal and arbitrary.”

The petition cited the purported communication from the Prime Minister on April 11 to all the members of the selection committee to indicate their availability between April 24 and 28 so that a meeting could be held to appoint the chairperson and members of the Lokpal.

The selection panel includes the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and a judge nominated by the Chief Justice of India from the Supreme Court. Justice H.L. Dattu has been nominated by Justice Sathasivam to the selection panel.

The selection panel also has a jurist member, P.P. Rao, a senior advocate whose appointment has been approved by the President despite objections from Opposition leader Swaraj.


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