Supreme Court gives time to search committee on Lokpal
The Supreme Court on Thursday granted time till February to the search committee headed by a former apex court judge to “recommend” a panel of names for the appointment of the first Lokpal and its members.
The bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Sanjay Kishan Kaul also directed the Centre to provide all necessary secretarial and infrastructure facilities to the committee so that the deadline can be met. The court will hear the matter again on March 7.
The court turned down the plea of advocate Prashant Bhushan that the names shortlisted by the search committee be put in the public domain to maintain transparency.
Justice Gogoi, while declining the plea, said the names would be handed over to the two separate petitioners — the NGOs Common Cause and Youth For Equality.
When Bhushan persisted, CJI Gogoi said: “Do not ask the court to pass orders which are not required. Is there any reason that the search committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge would do anything that is inappropriate?”
But Bhushan continued to insist, prompting Justice Gogoi to say: “Don’t look at things in a negative way. Look at things in a positive manner. The world will be a better place to live in then.”
Noticing the guffaws in the courtroom, CJI Gogoi turned towards journalists and said everything would now be published in the newspapers.
CJI Gogoi said in the order: “For reasons that we need not go into for the present, the search committee had not undertaken any deliberations, we are told, till yesterday… 16th January, 2019, when a meeting was held.”
The court noted that attorney-general K.K. Venugopal, who represented the Centre, had pointed out that “on account of certain difficulties like lack of office space, infrastructure, manpower, secretariat, etc, possibly, the search committee has felt handicapped in convening its meeting(s)”.
“We do not wish to comment on the said aspect of the matter. Instead, we deem it appropriate to request the search committee to commence and complete its deliberations and recommend a panel as required under Rule 11 of the Search Committee (Constitution, Terms and Conditions of Appointment of Members and the Manner of Selection of Panel of Names for Appointment of Chairperson and Members of Lokpal) Rules, 2014, by the end of February 2019.
“The Government of India is directed to make available requisite infrastructure, manpower, secretarial assistance, etc, to enable the search committee to commence its working immediately and conclude the same within the time frame fixed by the court. List the matter for further hearing on 7th March, 2019,” the Supreme Court order said.
The search committee is headed by retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai and has as members Justice Sakha Ram Singh Yadav, Ranjit Kumar, Arundhati Bhattacharya, Dr Lalit K. Panwar, Shabbirhusein S. Khandwawala, A. Surya Prakash and Dr. A.S. Kiran Kumar.
Notified on January 16, 2014, the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act has been hanging fire as the Narendra Modi government had refused to constitute it on the ground that there was no leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and that several amendments had been proposed which were under Parliament’s consideration.
The delay prompted the two NGOs to move the Supreme Court seeking a directive to the government to put the Lokpal in place.
Subsequently the Centre decided to amend the rules to include in the selection committee the leader of the single-largest Opposition party, if there is no leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
Under the present rules, if the leader of the Opposition is not available, the chairperson and the other two members of the selection committee — the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India or his nominee — may proceed to appoint an eminent jurist as a member of the panel.