Former Chief Justice of India Y K Sabharwal was not offered the post of National Human Rights Commission chief because of “adverse media and other reports” against him, the Centre revealed on Wednesday.
In response to a Right to Information query by a Delhi resident, Subhash Chandra Agrawal, the home ministry said that Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justice Sabharwal, both former CJIs, were the only two eligible for the post, but Justice Lahoti declined the offer.
The post has been lying vacant since the past 10 months.
“Because of the adverse media and other reports with regard to Mr Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, it was felt that the highly sensitive post of chairperson NHRC may not be offered to him,” the ministry stated in its reply.
Justice Sabharwal faced serious allegations of corruption in passing orders for sealing commercial establishments running in residential areas in Delhi when he was a Supreme Court judge in 2006.
“In the case of Justice Lahoti, the then home secretary had spoken to the learned judge enquiring about his availability to the post. It appears that Justice Lahoti indicated that he was otherwise very busy and would not be in a position to accept the offer,” the ministry said.
“Accordingly, it was recorded on our files that Mr Justice RC Lahoti and and Mr Justice YK Sabharwal are not inclined/ not available for different reasons,” the reply stated.
The ministry said the offer to Justice Lahoti was made “orally” and there was no correspondence recorded between the government and the judge.
The post of the NHRC chief fell vacant on June 1, 2009. The country’s human rights watchdog has been without a regular boss since then.
According to the provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, only a retired Chief Justice of India below the age of 70 can be appointed NHRC chairperson.
The RTI response has highlighted the government’s helplessness in appointing the NHRC chief despite being pulled up by the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court on the matter. The Centre told the courts it was open to amending the law to tide over the problem.