The Supreme Court on Friday rapped the Centre for its continuing delay in appointing the Lokpal and asked it to file a fresh affidavit by January 17 on the steps taken towards this since September last year.
It cut attorney-general K.K. Venugopal short as he read out the steps taken in September to appoint members of the search committee for the anti-corruption ombudsman, whose appointment has been hanging fire since January 2014.
“That’s long back! Tell us what you are doing now. We may tell you, much time has lapsed,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, sitting on a bench with Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, said.
“You have to bring on record the steps taken since September till date. So much time is being taken in this matter.”
Venugopal offered to place a note on the subject but the Chief Justice insisted on a written affidavit and fixed the next hearing on January 17.
Two NGOs, Common Cause and Youth For Equality, have petitioned the court to direct the government to appoint the Lokpal, to be made up of a chairperson and eight other members.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing Common Cause, complained that the government website was yet to show even the names of the search committee members, who are to assist the high-powered selection committee headed by the Prime Minister.
The other members of the selection panel are the Lok Sabha Speaker, the leader of the Opposition in the Lower House, the Chief Justice of India (or his nominee) and an eminent jurist picked by the first four.
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act was notified on January 16, 2014, but the Narendra Modi government initially refused to constitute the watchdog on the ground that the present Lok Sabha lacks a leader of the Opposition.
Since then, it has agreed to amend the law and allow the leader of the largest Opposition party to become a panel member if the Lok Sabha lacked a leader of the Opposition. But the proposed amendment has not been carried out despite an assurance to the apex court.
The current rules, however, make it clear that the appointment of the Lokpal does not become invalid merely because of a vacancy in the selection committee. The Supreme Court had in any case allowed the selection committee to meet without a leader of the Opposition.
At the last hearing on July 24, the top court had expressed displeasure at the government’s failure to cite a timetable for appointing the Lokpal.
It had termed “wholly unsatisfactory” the Centre’s affidavit that said the selection committee, which had met on July 19 to form the search committee, would meet again.
“We find the said affidavit to be wholly unsatisfactory. We, therefore, do not accept the same and direct the concerned authority to file a better affidavit giving full particulars within a period of four weeks,” Justice Gogoi had said, dictating the order in open court.