Blow to Modi as HC upholds Lokayukta appointment

In a big blow to Narendra Modi, the Gujarat high court on Wednesday upheld the appointment of retired judge R A Mehta as the state's Lokyukta.

Justice V M Sahai delivered the verdict on the government's petition against the appointment of Mehta as the state Lokayukta by governor Kamla Beniwal, bypassing the state government.

Justice Sahai was assigned the case after a split verdict by a division bench, which earlier heard the petition moved by the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government.

In August last year, governor Beniwal had appointed Mehta as the state Lokayukta (or anti-corruption ombudsman), a post that had been vacant since November 2003. The Modi government challenged the appointment before the high court on the same day, contending that the governor's action was unconstitutional and unilateral.

On 11 October, the division bench delivered a split verdict. While chief justice Akil Qureshi upheld the governor's action, Justice Gokani held the appointment as unconstitutional.

Upholding the appointment, Justice Qureshi observed that any advice by the council of ministers in the case would have been unconstitutional.

Under the rules, the governor can appoint the Lokayukta in consultation with the chief justice of the high court, bypassing the cabinet if necessary. The state government has been arguing that the governor must consult a committee, including three ministers, the leader of the opposition and the state's Chief Justice.

A delegation led by veteran BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani had met President Pratibha Patil demanding recall of the Gujarat governor. Modi had also written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding that the governor be recalled.