The UPA government’s bid to give the country its first lokpal before the end of its term is unlikely to get the nod of the election commission, which, however, has allowed it to name the new army chief.
The election code of conduct — which will remain in place till May 16, the counting day — allows the government to make routine appointments but debars the ones that can “influence the voters in favour of the party in power”.
The government could claim credit for appointment of country’s first anti-corruption authority in the ongoing elections, an EC official said. Four more rounds of voting are still to be held during which 311 seats will be voted for over the next four weeks.
Read: BJP determined to block govt’s lokpal move, may go to prez
As first reported by HT, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had requested the lokpal selection committee members, including leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj and speaker Meira Kumar, to meet on April 27 or 28 to decide on the watchdog empowered to probe allegations against those holding high public offices.
Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitely had accused the PM of showing “unholy haste” by an outgoing government. The BJP had sought poll panel’s intervention to stop the government from going ahead with the meeting and also defer the appointment of the new army chief.
Drawing a distinction between the two, the EC, it is learnt, is of the view that appointment of new army chief was an ongoing process while the lokpal was being selected for the first time.
Read: At exit gate, UPA government tries to sneak in lokpal
The commission has allowed the government to name the new army chief — normally done three months before the end of the term of the incumbent.
Army chief General Bikram Singh’s retires on July 31 and the government is likely to announce his deputy, Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, his successor.
"It will not make any difference if appointment of lokpal, which has not happened in 40 years, is deferred for a month,” the EC official said. The election commissioners are expected to decide on lokpal after they return from Gujarat on Tuesday.
Read: 'Unholy haste' will destroy Lokpal's credibility: Jaitley
On Monday, the Supreme Court accepted the plea of Common Cause, a non-government organisation, for an urgent hearing of a petition seeking directions to the government to put the lokpal appointment on hold. Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam posted the matter for April 25.
The court had on March 31 given the government four weeks to reply to the petition challenging the election process but the urgency shown by the prime minister’s office’s to select the lokpal on April 27 or 28 raised eyebrows.
Lokpal selection has been mired in controversy. Two members of the search committee --- senior jurist Fali Nariman and retired Supreme Court judge KT Thomas --- opted out of it, citing lack of independence and the non-binding nature of their recommendations.
Jaitley and Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for Common Cause, have said lokpal appointment rules violate the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.
Read: BJP seeks EC order stopping all appointments