The government has cleared the appointment of a Rajkot-based lawyer, who had defended the accused in the Gulberg Society massacre of the 2002 Gujarat riots, as part-time member to the Law Commission of India.
Abhay Bhardwaj became the second controversial appointment after Satya Pal Jain, a former BJP parliamentarian from Chandigarh who was party leader LK Advani’s counsel in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case, was inducted in June.
Like Bhardwaj, Jain too is a part-time member and their appointments have drawn criticism.
The opposition Congress said the selections are part of a disappointing pattern. Party leader and former Union law minister Kapil Sibal accused the BJP-led government of “filling up important public positions with people of its own ideology”.
Besides Bhardwaj, who is yet to join, the government filled two crucial positions of full-time members, including the member secretary, after more than a third of the 21st commission’s term is over.
Dr Sanjay Singh, former legislative secretary, took charge as member secretary, while Dr S Sivakumar, academic and honorary legal consultant to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), joined the commission as a full-time member on Wednesday.
The commission, an advisory body to the government on judicial reforms, now has three full-time members against four vacancies.
The commission so far had only one full-time member, Justice Ravi Tripathi, who retired as a judge in the Gujarat high court last May. In March this year, the government appointed former Supreme Court judge Justice Balbir Singh Chauhan as its chairman.
The law ministry notified last September the constitution of the commission for three years, till August 31, 2018.
The commission comprises a chairman, four full-time members, including a member secretary, two secretaries from the ministry as ex-officio members and “not more than five part-time members”.
“We can now start working full-fledged on matters pending before the commission,” a senior official said.
The vacancies impaired the commission’s work and it has not submitted a single report, despite crucial references from the government and the Supreme Court pending with it.
The previous commission had submitted 19 reports during its three-year term, including those on amending the corruption law and death penalty.