New Delhi: The selection committee led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will sit Friday evening to deliberate on candidates chosen by the search committee to make up the Lokpal, India’s proposed anti-corruption ombudsman.
ThePrint has learnt that the search committee has not recommended the name of any former chief justice of India to the selection committee. Thus, retired CJIs Dipak Misra, J.S. Khehar and T.S. Thakur are ruled out, while a source aware of the deliberations of the search committee said that sitting judges of the top court would also not be in the running.
Instead, the eight-member search committee has recommended more than 20 names —including retired judges of the Supreme Court, retired high court chief justices and several former civil servants — for the posts of chairperson, judicial members and non-judicial members of the Lokpal.
The search committee’s list of names are merely recommendations, and the PM Modi-led selection committee may decide to appoint members from outside the list.
The source also said that only those candidates have been shortlisted who will be able to serve on the Lokpal panel for more than a year or two. Another source said former judges who have already opted for government jobs post-retirement have not been considered.
Search committee’s parameters
In September 2018, the Modi government announced an eight-member search committee that was led by former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Desai. Former Allahabad High Court judge Sakha Ram Singh, former solicitor general Ranjit Kumar, former State Bank of India chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya, retired IAS officer Lalit K. Panwar, former Gujarat DGP Shabbir Hussain S. Khandwawala, Prasar Bharati chairperson A. Surya Prakash and former ISRO chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar comprised the search committee.
The committee was required to look for members with “special knowledge and expertise in matters relating to anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance, policy-making, finance, including insurance and banking, law and management or in any other matter which in the opinion of the selection committee, may be useful in making the selection of the chairperson and members of Lokpal”, in accordance with The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.
Kharge pulls out
The PM-led selection committee comprises the Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court judge nominated by him, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, an eminent jurist —Mukul Rohatgi — and the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha.
Since there is no official LoP, Mallikarjun Kharge — the leader of the largest opposition party, the Congress — was invited to participate as a ‘special invitee’ on the committee. However, Kharge has declined to participate in Friday’s meeting.
In a letter addressed to Modi, Kharge has taken objection to the fact that since 2014, the central government has not amended provisions of the Lokpal Act to include the leader of the single largest party in opposition to be a member of the committee.
“A ‘Special Invitee’ would not have any rights of participation in the process of selection of Lokpal, and I cannot accept the opposition being voiceless in a critical matter,” Kharge said.
By excluding the opposition, the process is being vitiated, he added. “I would like to caution the government that any selection through this one-sided process may decline to accept the position (sic),” he said.
SC keeping an eye on proceedings
On 17 January, the Supreme Court pulled up the Modi government for delaying the search for the country’s first anti-corruption ombudsman. It had directed the search committee to recommend names by February-end.
On 7 March, a bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi was informed by Attorney General K.K. Venugopal that the search committee had submitted the names for consideration. Following this disclosure, the bench had then directed the government to inform it within a fortnight when the selection committee would meet.
Although Parliament passed the Lokpal Bill in December 2013 and notified it the following month, it remained inactive since there was no LoP as defined by the Parliament. However, on 27 April 2017, the Supreme Court paved the way for transparency as it observed that the Lokpal in its current avatar was a “workable piece of legislation”. It had dismissed the Centre’s contention that there was no official LoP, and directed the Lokpal Committee to appoint the eminent jurist.