The government told the Supreme Court on Tuesday it was not possible to appoint a lokpal till Parliament cleared the changes proposed to the law governing the appointment of the anti-corruption watchdog.
Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi said the amendments to the definition of the leader of opposition in the lokpal act were pending with Parliament. “Currently there is a problem with the law due to which selection of lokpal cannot happen.In the absence of a leader of opposition, the appointment cannot be done,” the country’s top law officer told the court.
The court, which was hearing a bunch of petitions seeking appointment of the lokpal, reserved its verdict.
Parliament in 2013 approved a law to create an independent anti-corruption agency after a delay of almost 50 years but the hiring of lokpal to run it has been stuck on the question of who should be on the appointment panel.
The lokpal act says the prime minister-led selection panel will include the leader of the opposition, the Lok Sabha speaker, the chief justice of India and an eminent jurist.
“It’s up to Parliament, which cannot be given a time limit for its work, just like a time-frame cannot be fixed for the judiciary to decide a case,” Rohatgi said.
As the present Lok Sabha does not have a leader of the opposition, the government moved an amendment allowing the leader of the largest opposition party to be part of the panel.
But, the Opposition called for closer scrutiny of other changes and the bill was sent to a parliamentary committee that gave some suggestions last year. The government is yet to take a call on them.
During a hearing in November, the court pulled up the government for the delay, asking why it was dragging its feet “if it was so committed to cleansing corruption”.
The government was not sleeping over the issue, Rohatgi said on Tuesday.
The Congress, the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha, didn’t have enough members for one of its MPs to be named the leader of the opposition, he said. The Congress has 45 MPs, while the requirement is 55.
Appearing for the NGO Common Cause, senior advocate Shanti Bhushan said the government was delaying the appointment though the law mandated expeditious implementation.
The Modi government, it seemed, didn’t want to be held accountable to an independent institution such as lokpal, the Congress said.
“The BJP government is systematically dismantling the checks and balances in our democracy and dismantling the pillars of transparency and accountability,” Congress spokesperson Gaurav Gogoi said.