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Panel formed to pick Lokpal as Mallikarjun Kharge boycotts meeting

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge boycotted the meeting on the grounds that he was being invited as a “special invitee” without any right of participation, recording an opinion or voting.

india Updated: Jul 19, 2018 23:14 IST
Moushumi Das Gupta and Bhadra Sinha
Moushumi Das Gupta and Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Mallikarjun Kharge,Lokpal Act,Lokpal
Calling the process of appointing the Lokpal under such circumstances “vitiated,” Mallikarjun Kharge cautioned the PM that any eminent person who would be chosen for appointment as Lokpal would not accept this appointment made by the selection panel that did not consider the views of the opposition.(PTI Photo)

The Lokpal selection committee chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday evening decided to go ahead and constitute a search panel to choose the Lokpal, or the anti-corruption ombudsman, after the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge boycotted the meeting, two people familiar with the development said.

Kharge boycotted the meeting on the grounds that he was being invited as a “special invitee” without any right of participation, recording an opinion or voting. On Wednesday, he wrote to the Prime Minister that he would not attend the selection committee meeting till the time the leader of the single largest opposition party is accorded the status of a full-fledged member of the panel. The Congress won fewer than 10% of the seats in the Lok Sabha in 2014 and, consequently, its leader in the house isn’t eligible to be the leader of the opposition.

Besides the PM, Thursday’s meeting was attended by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, chief justice of India Dipak Misra and an eminent jurist Mukul Rohatgi.

One of the two people familiar with the matter cited above said on condition of anonymity that the selection committee had decided to go ahead with its work.

The committee discussed some names of people who could be members of the search panel, but no names were finalized, this person added.

‘’Law says that leader of the opposition party has to be there on the committee, but Kharge was invited as special invitee, because he is not designated as leader. Since he is refusing to attend the meetings, the committee has decided to go ahead without him,’’ the second person said on condition of anonymity.

Under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, passed by Parliament in 2013, the anti-corruption ombudsman will be appointed by a committee that includes the leader of the opposition, and the absence of one has thwarted the process.

In his letter to the PM on Wednesday, Kharge said, “The government insists on continuing to invite me as a special invitee to the selection committee meeting despite being aware of the fact that there is no such provision under Section 4 of the Lokpal Act. It has been four years since your government came to power and if the government was indeed sincere about including the voice of the Opposition in this process, it could have brought the necessary amendment to ensure the same.”

Calling the process of appointing the Lokpal under such circumstances “vitiated,” Kharge cautioned the PM that any eminent person who would be chosen for appointment as Lokpal would not accept this appointment made by the selection panel that did not consider the views of the opposition.

Kharge could not be contacted for comment despite several attempts to do so.

Kharge has twice in the past – March 1 and April 10 -- boycotted the meetings of the Lokpal selection committee on the grounds that the government invited him as a “special invitee.”

Gopal Sankaranarayanan, a Supreme Court advocate, said that the process of appointing the Lokapal should be broad-based. “Because the Lokapal can investigate even the PM, the selection and appointment should be objective and the opposition’s voice should be there. They should have treated Kharge as a full time member.”

Sankaranarayanan clarified that while the appointment, without the participation of the opposition would not be illegal, it would be improper. “I would have hoped that in the appointment of this important nature, the government would have displayed some wisdom and statesmanship,” he added.

Thursday’s meeting came after the Centre on July 17 told the Supreme Court, which is hearing a contempt petition filed by NGO Common Cause against the Centre for failing to appoint the Lokpal despite the apex court’s verdict last April, that the selection committee will meet on July 19 to create a search panel to zero in on the anti-graft ombudsman and other members of the body

First Published: Jul 19, 2018 17:13 IST