The Supreme Court on Friday waded into the row over the Congress being denied the post of Leader of the Opposition, suggesting that an LoP was needed for making key appointments like the Lokpal anti-corruption ombudsman.
The reproach from the country’s top court underlines the increasingly cold relationship between the judiciary and the executive, coming as it does at a time when the BJP-led government is trying to change the law to have a say in judicial appointments.
“The Leader of the Opposition also conveys the voice of the House. It represents a view different from that of the government. If there is no LoP, the decision would not be objective. Ultimately, a vacuum remains,” said a bench headed by CJI RM Lodha.
As the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha with 44 seats, Congress has been demanding the LoP post, but citing advice from the government’s top law officer, attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi, speaker Sumitra Mahajan earlier this week rejected the claim on the ground that it did not have the requisite 10% seats in the House.
According to the Lokpal law, the selection panel for the position comprises the CJI, Prime Minister, Speaker, the LoP and an eminent jurist. Rohatgi contended in court that a vacancy in the selection panel — read the LoP — did not invalidate the appointment.
Read: Govt puts on hold new CIC's appointment in absence of LoP
Justice Lodha would have none of that, saying: “The question is that this committee must be an effective committee and recommend objectively. Surely, a Leader of the Opposition is a very important component. As a matter of fact, very, very important for a very objective consideration.”
In fact, he added that the issue of LoP was relevant not only in the Lokpal law but also in other laws, and hinted that if the government did not resolve the issue within two weeks, it may give a wider interpretation to the term so as to include leader of the largest party.
The court fixed September 9 to hear the matter, saying the legislation on Lokpal could not be put into cold storage.
“It (selection of Lokpal) is a very important statutory process involving probity in public life. You have to tell us what options are left when confronted with a situation like this,” the bench said.
“We need to fast-track the process. Such an important legislation can’t be frustrated. How does the concept work when there is no Leader of the Opposition?”
This is not the first confrontation between the three-month-old Modi government and the Supreme Court. Earlier, there was a face-off over the government’s refusal to appoint senior advocate Gopal Subramanium as an SC judge despite recommendations from a panel of top judges.
On Friday, the court was considering a public interest litigation by Common Cause, an NGO that wants the selection process for the Lokpal scrapped on the grounds that it is “illegal and arbitrary”.
HT Analysis: LoP needed for other key appointments too