No Lokpal in current session, Union government tells Supreme Court

Anti-corruption ombudsman possible in the next session of Parliament, says Attorney General Rohatgi.

Published: 29th March 2017 03:42 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th March 2017 10:00 AM   |  A+A-

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi. | PTI File Photo

NEW DELHI: The Lokpal, touted as one of the most effective measures to check corruption in the corridors of power, seems to be stuck on an infinite loop.

The Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that it wasn’t in a position to appoint the country’s first anti-corruption ombudsman - a.k.a Lokpal - due to prevailing legal complications in the appointment. 

“Lokpal cannot be appointed in the current scenario as amendments regarding definition of the Leader of Opposition in the Lokpal Act are pending in Parliament. The judiciary can’t dictate the legislature on this issue,” Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the court. 

Rohatgi added that the budget session of Parliament was primarily meant for the Budget and hence, appointment of the Lokpal was not possible. “In the next session, the Centre would most probably try to appoint the Lokpal,” he added. 

The government’s response faced flak, both inside and outside the court. “Here is a law that was enacted three years ago after a long battle. It is the duty of the government and the court to ensure it’s enforced,” said senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, appearing on behalf of Common Cause, one of the petitioners in the case.

Senior lawyer and politician Prashant Bhushan pointed out that Lokpal was one of Modi’s poll pitches in 2014 and criticised his government for dilly-dallying on the same. “Modi rode to power on the back of Lokpal movement, promising to end corruption. Once in power, he refuses to appoint Lokpal for three years, just like in Gujarat,” he tweeted.

The Supreme Court has reserved its verdict in the case. ‘The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act’ aims to create a system of anti-corruption watchdog. The law came into force on January 16, 2014, but the appointment process was stalled as search panel members, including jurist Fali Nariman, quit.

As per the Act, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha should also be a member of the selection panel. But, the speaker has not recognised anyone as the Leader of Opposition as no party has the minimum 55 per cent representation required for the same. This has been cited as the reason for delay by the government.

Prashant Bhushan dismissed the reasons. “The selection committee could still have been constituted and appointments could have been made even without the Speaker formally designating the Leader of Opposition,” he claimed. “It’s obvious the government has no intention of appointing the Lokpal.”

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