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Friday, Nov 15, 2019

Retired Supreme Court judge Ghose set to be country’s first Lokpal

Justice PC Ghose’s name was cleared by the selection committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi.

india Updated: Mar 18, 2019 00:00 IST

Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Supreme Court on January 4 this year had urged the government to appoint a Lokpal at the earliest, saying “much time has elapsed, something needs to be done”.
The Supreme Court on January 4 this year had urged the government to appoint a Lokpal at the earliest, saying “much time has elapsed, something needs to be done”.(File Photo)
         

Retired Supreme Court judge Pinaki Chandra Ghose is likely to be appointed the country’s first Lokpal, the anti-corruption ombudsman, after a Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led selection committee on Sunday agreed on his name, two officials with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Parliament passed the Lokpal Act in 2013, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was in power. The law provides for a Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states to investigate cases of corruption against public servants.

“The competent authority will soon take a final decision on the name of justice Ghose for the chairperson, Lokpal, as recommended by the selection committee, and then the appointment will be formally announced,” an official said on the condition of anonymity. Justice Ghose, currently a member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), retired as a Supreme Court judge in May 2017.

The PM, Lok Sabha Speaker, Chief Justice of India or his nominee, Leader of the Opposition, and an eminent jurist are the members of the Lokpal selection committee. As there is no designated Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha currently, the government had invited Kharge, the leader of the Congress legislature party in the House, to the meetings of the selection panel as a “special invitee”.

Kharge repeatedly turned down the government’s invite to attend the panel’s meetings, saying he could not accept the Opposition being made voiceless on a critical matter.

A second official said the selection committee’s decision on justice Ghose’s name for the post was in line with the Supreme Court’s March 7 directive to attorney general KK Venugopal to submit within 10 days the date of meeting of the PM-led selection committee on the Lokpal’s appointment. Other members in the selection panel are Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi. The selection committee’s decision was based on the recommendation of an eight-member search panel, chaired by justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, the two officials said. The search committee was constituted in September last year to recommend names for the positions of the chairperson and the members of the Lokpal. Other names recommended for the ombudsman were not immediately known.

Lawyer and civil rights activist Prashant Bhushan criticised the selection process as opaque. “No honest person would oppose transparency in the matter of appointment of persons to such critical positions. This shows that they wanted to appoint improper persons,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the selection committee does not include the Leader of the Opposition. The Supreme Court did not accept our plea that the leader of the single largest party in the Opposition should be made a member of the committee in place of the Leader of the Opposition,” Bhushan said.

A government official, however, refuted the charge. “Technically, there is no Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Despite that, the selection committee did invite the leader of the single largest party in the Opposition [Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge] in the meetings. But, he declined,” said the official, requesting anonymity.

On March 14, Kharge declined the selection committee’s invitation the seventh time since February 2018 for being invited as a “special invitee”. “A ‘special invitee’ would not have any rights of participation in the process of selection of the Lokpal and I cannot accept the Opposition being made voiceless in a critical matter,” Kharge wrote to the PM while declining to be a part of the selection committee’s meeting.

On Sunday, Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry Kiran Bedi tweeted: “Exceedingly happy to see the announcement of LOKPAL. It shall strengthen all anti corruption systems in the country...”.

In a tweet, Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said: “#Modi #Shah #BjP deserve congrats 4appointing #Lokpal when their departure time hs come after wasting 5yrs since 2014, despite hypocritically shouting lokpal during their opp years!modiji also acted true 2form having obstructed/stalled #Lokayukta 4whole 12yr term as #CM #Gujarat”.

Born on May 28, 1952, justice Ghose is a law graduate from the University of Calcutta. According to the National Human Rights Commission’s website, he has been associated with many activities of the Ramakrishna Mission.