SC questions govt over Leader of Opposition vacancy

The Supreme Court has expressed its concern over the post of the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha remaining vacant even as the Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan on Tuesday formally rejected the Congress party's demand saying that the post can't be given to them as it does not have the required number of seats.

Parliament BuildingThe Supreme Court's observations come amidst the continuing fight between the ruling BJP and the Congress party over the post of Leader of Opposition (LoP). The apex court stressed the importance of the opposition in governance and agreed to give its interpretation on it.

The SC bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha said the position of the Leader of Opposition ''conveys a voice different from the government's'' and is therefore crucial.

The court has asked the centre to give its response within four weeks.

The Congress has been claiming that being the single-largest opposition party, its floor leader in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, must be recognised as Leader of Opposition.

However, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan ruled that out, citing convention that a party must have at least 55 members in the House to claim the post. The Congress has only 44 members.

The judges made the comments while hearing a case seeking government's explanation on the delay in appointing the nine members of the national anti-graft body, Lokpal, which has come into being by an Act of Parliament in December.

''The LoP is very important component (under Lokpal law) and needs objective consideration.'' a bench said.

The case was filed by lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, who is also a leader of the Aam Aadmi Party.

The judges have further pointed out that by law, the committee that selects the Lokpal's members must include the Leader of the Opposition along with the prime minister and Chief Justice of India.

The Lokpal's nine members are meant to include four former or serving judges.

The court had, on 31 March, sought response from the centre on a petition filed by NGO Common Cause questioning the entire selection process for appointment of chairperson and members of Lokpal and seeking a stay on it.

It had asked the centre to justify the Search Committee (Constitution, Terms and Conditions of Appointment of Members and Manner of Selection of Panel of Names for Appointment of Chairperson and Members of Lokpal) Rules, 2014 framed under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2014.

The petition, filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan, had sought to declare "illegal" the rules under which selections were being done.

It had said the government was going ahead with the selection process despite there being serious flaws in the rules under which selections were being done.

The petition has also said that Rule 10 (1) provides that the Search Committee shall prepare a panel of persons to be considered by the Selection Committee for appointment of chairperson and members of the Lokpal, from among the list of persons provided by the central government.

The LoP is a cabinet-rank post and is part of important committees headed by the Prime Minister, which are in charge of selecting key appointees like the national ombudsman, the Lokpal, and the Chief Vigilance Commissioner.