The Supreme Court has questioned the Bharatiya Janata party-led NDA government over the delay in appointing a Lokpal or an anti-corruption ombudsman despite notifying the law more than two years ago.
“Are you facing any problem in appointing a Lokpal?” a bench headed by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur on Monday asked the central government’s counsel who sought time for a response.
“Why haven’t you appointed anyone so far? Why is there this delay? If there is presidential assent to the law then what is holding you back? You cannot sit over it,” the bench asked attorney general Mukul Rohatgi.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by an NGO, Common Cause, that alleged the government was dragging its feet over the appointment.
Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who is representing the NGO, claimed the government had taken a stand that Lokpal cannot be appointed without a Leader of Opposition (LoP). “Since there is no LoP in this Parliament, the government is withholding the appointment, which is very crucial to combat corruption,” Bhushan told the bench.
At this, the court asked the government counsel: “Ask the attorney general to appear. Let him come before us and spell out the obstruction. You must take some step and resolve the problem.”
The bench posted the matter for further hearing on July 19 and said the attorney general must inform it about the steps taken for the appointment of Lokpal and if there is any difficulty then the court should be apprised of it.
The top court had in 2014 declined to accept the Centre’s submission that country’s first Lokpal can be appointed without LoP being part of the appointing panel. A bench headed by then CJI RM Lodha said the Leader of Opposition also conveys the voice of the House and represents a view different from that of the government.
“If there is no LoP, the decision would not be objective. Ultimately, a vacuum remains,” he said.
The observation came after Rohatgi contended a vacancy in the selection panel for Lokpal did not invalidate the appointment.
The Lokpal law – that technically came into force in January 2014 – requires public servants to declare not only their assets and liabilities but also for their spouse. The information would be placed in public domain.
In the face of protests from government officials, the Narendra Modi government proposed to go back to the original rule that only placed immovable assets of officials in the public domain and referred it to a parliamentary committee.