SC clears decks for appointment of Lokpal

The Supreme Court on Thursday told the Narendra Modi government it should proceed with the appointment of a Lokpal, as there was no legal hurdle to appointing the country's first anti-corruption watchdog without the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha (LOP) being on the selection panel.

Terming the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, as ''an eminently workable piece of legislation'', a bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi said, ''There is no justification to keep the enforcement of the Act under suspension till the amendments, as proposed, are carried out.'' The ruling means no nominee of the opposition (read Congress) will be part of the Lokpal selection process.

The bench didn't accept the Centre's argument that it wasn't possible to appoint a Lokpal without the LOP being there on the selection panel.

The Act requires the LOP to be a member of the selection panel but there is no designated leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha as the Congress does not have the numbers needed for it.

''If, at present, the LOP is not available, surely, the chairperson and the other two members of the selection committee, namely, 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 selection committee under Section 4(1)(e) of the Act,'' the bench said in its verdict on petitions seeking a direction to the government to appoint the Lokpal expeditiously.

Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi had told the top court that Lokpal could not be appointed in the current scenario as amendments regarding definition of the leader of opposition in the Lokpal Act were pending in Parliament.

However, the top court said, ''Such attempts at achieving better results in the working of any statute is a perpetual and ongoing exercise dictated by the experiences gained on the working of the Act. Such attempts cannot halt the operation and execution of the law which the executive in its wisdom has already given effect to and has brought into force by resorting to the provisions of Section 1(4) of the Act.''

The top court also rejected another petition, which demanded that the Chief Justice of India should have primacy in the selection of an eminent jurist who is required to be a part of selection panel along with the Prime Minister, LOP, and Lok Sabha speaker.

Under the Act, the selection of the eminent jurist has to be done by other members of the selection panel. However, the bench said, ''It is not the mandate of the Constitution that in all matters concerning the appointment to various offices in different bodies, primacy must be accorded to the opinion of the Chief Justice or his nominee.''

Rohtagi had sought to argue that unless the proposed amendment nominating the leader of the largest opposition party as leader of the opposition is passed by Parliament, the Lokpal can't be appointed. The Judiciary can't dictate the Legislature on the issue.

But the court said Sub-section (2) of Section 4 makes it clear that the appointment of chairperson or a member of the Lokpal will not become invalid merely because of the reason of any vacancy in the selection committee.