A Supreme Court Bench consisting of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, R. Banumathi and Navin Sinha has rejected Union Government's affidavit regarding Lokpal appointments yesterday. The contempt petition had been filed by Common Cause, a non-government organisation (NGO) based in New Delhi. Prashant Bhushan appearing on behalf of the petitioners had urged the Court to either take upon itself to make the necessary appointments under Article 142, or to hold the government in contempt of its Judgment on April 27, 2017.
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The earlier Judgment arose out of a petition filed by Common Cause regarding the functioning of the committee to appoint the Lokpal in consonance with the 2014 Rules to the Lokayuktas Act, 2013. The Act stipulates that the leader of opposition would be a member of the Selection Committee. The issue raised by the Union Government was that there was no clear leader of opposition, hence how could the Committee function? This argument was rejected by the Court which meant that the committee had to be constituted.
The present contempt petition was filed nine months after the Judgement of the Supreme Court. This arose as the government had failed to appoint a Lokpal. On February 23, the Attorney General (AG), KK Venugopal informed the Court that steps under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 were underway and a meeting had been scheduled for March 1, 2018.
On March 6, the Secretary, Department of Personnel and Training filed and affidavit before the Court. The matter was listed for April 17.
In the subsequent hearing, the AG informed the Court that the Selection Committee had met on April 10 and had made recommendations regarding the appointment of an eminent jurist – who is also a member of the committee and selected by the committee. The Court appearing satisfied with the AG's representation deemed it unnecessary to pass any orders, and listed the matter for May 15.
The Supreme Court, in the following hearing, observed that the eminent jurist had been appointed and that all that was left for the Selection Committee to do was to constitute a Search Committee. The Court noted that since the Selection Committee comprised of High Constitutional functionaries, it would not be proper for it to pass any Orders regarding the time frame within which the process should progress. The matter was listed for July 2.
On July 2, the Court directed the Union Government to file an affidavit with the precise details of the steps to be taken in appointing a Lokpal within 10 days. The matter was then listed for July 17.
On July 17, the Court observed that the affidavit had confirmed that meetings of the Selection Committee were taking place. The Court also expressed its optimism that the Search Committee would be constituted in a timely manner. The matter was listed for July 24.
In the hearing yesterday the Supreme Court expressed:
“Having perused the affidavit dated 23rdJuly, 2018 all that we are inclined to record at this stage is that 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 from today.”
The affidavit that was deemed “wholly unsatisfactory” by the Supreme Court listed the members who attended the meeting on July 19, to appoint the Search Committee as; Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Speaker of the Lok Sabha Sumitra Mahajan, and eminent jurist Mukul Rohatgi. The affidavit mentioned that Mallikarjun Kharge had been invited as the leader of opposition, however, he declined to attend the meeting.
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The items on the agenda were:
- Constituting a Search Committee to recommend names to the Selection Committee for the post of Chairperson and members of the Lokpal.
- Fixing a time line within which this task is to be achieved.
The Selection Committee took note that the Search Committee should consist of a minimum of seven persons who should have experience in anti-corruption policy, public administration and vigilance among other related fields. The other criteria for constituting a Search Committee was that 50 per cent of the members of the Committee should belong to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, minorities and women. The meeting concluded with the members agreeing that in the next meeting names fulfilling the criteria laid down would be suggested. The Court passed directions that the matter be listed after four weeks.