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HindustanTimes Fri,31 Oct 2014

Justice Thomas opts out of lokpal search panel

Saikat Datta, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, March 03, 2014
First Published: 14:56 IST(3/3/2014) | Last Updated: 01:49 IST(4/3/2014)

After noted jurist Fali Nariman, justice KT Thomas (retired) on Monday became the second expert to quit the panel that was to recommend names of members for India's first lokpal.

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"The reason is that the search committee was to recommend names to a select committee, which need or need not accept those names. So it was not worthwhile to have this search committee," said Thomas, a former Supreme Court judge.

Nariman had quit the panel on Thursday last week, fearing "the most competent will get overlooked". This was seen as a major embarrassment for the government, already under fire from the BJP for appointing senior advocate PP Rao, allegedly a Congress loyalist, to the selection panel.

Thomas was unanimously chosen to head the eight-member search committee on February 20 by the selection committee, which comprises PM Manmohan Singh, Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, PP Rao and Supreme Court judge HL Dattu.

Together, the two panels are tasked with selecting the nine-member lokpal — headed by a sitting or former Chief Justice of India or SC judge or an eminent jurist with four members each from the judicial and non-judicial sides. The final appointments will be made by the President based on their suggestions.

Besides embarrassing the UPA, justice Thomas's resignation also exposes a sleight of hand by bureaucrats to weaken the anti-corruption body.

This is revealed by the contradictions between the provisions of the Lokpal Act and the rules passed by both houses of Parliament in February, which ensured justice Thomas was reduced to a rubber stamp.

Section 4 (3) of the Act stipulates the role of the selection committee, stating it would choose a chairperson and members of the Lokpal who had the requisite stature and experience for such a body.

But the bureaucracy slipped in rules that severely restricted the job of the committee headed by justice Thomas.

Under rule 10, the committee was restricted to choosing probable members from a list of people already short-listed by the department of personnel and training.

The rules further restricted the committee's scope by ensuring only the officers of the rank of secretary to the government of India (or equivalent) would be eligible for selection.

Besides, the rush to push through this Act gave parliamentarians and activists very little time to examine these contradictions. The government invited views on the Act on January 17 and kept it open till February 7. The Bill was placed in the Lok Sabha on February 12 and Rajya Sabha a day later. With little time to examine these crippling provisions, the Act was passed.

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