Top court was mulling contempt proceedings against the govt for its failure to implement Lokpal Act last week, it was told that a key meeting has been proposed.
New Delhi: More than four years after the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act came into force, a high-level committee comprising the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India among others is meeting Thursday to give the final push towards appointing the anti-corruption ombudsman.
Besides the PM and the CJI, the committee has on board Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and leader of the largest party in opposition Mallikarjun Kharge, although the latter has refused to attend the meet being held to decide on the “eminent jurist” member to complete the selection panel.
The move, however, was revealed during a hearing before the Supreme Court last week. The court was considering initiating contempt proceedings against the government for its failure to implement the Lokpal Act when attorney general K.K. Venugopal assured that a key meeting has been proposed.
Despite the assurance, the court directed Ajay Mittal, secretary of directorate of personnel and training, to file an affidavit on steps taken or proposed in the crucial meeting.
Even after the apex court ruled last year that the Lokpal Act is “an eminently workable piece of legislation and there is no justification to keep the enforcement of the act under suspension”, the government has repeatedly insisted that the law can only be enforced after fixing “some inadequate and inconsistent provisions”.
The government’s stand that since there is currently no leader of the opposition (LoP) to serve on the search-cum-selection panel for Lokpal, an amendment to replace the LoP with the leader of the largest party in opposition must be brought. Despite the approval of a standing committee which recommended the amendment, the bill is yet to be tabled in Parliament.
Ostensibly, the government has fixed the issue by having Mallikarjun Kharge as a “special invitee” instead of the LoP. It is unclear if the special invitee will have the same powers as the LoP in the search committee.
Even as the top court insisted that improvising the law “is a perpetual and ongoing exercise” and such “attempts cannot halt the operation and execution of the law which the executive in its wisdom has already given effect to and has brought into force,” the government did not waver in its decision to not appoint a Lokpal.
Relying on several case laws, then attorney general Mukul Rohatgi had argued that the court cannot direct the legislature to frame any law, amend the existing law or to complete a legislative exercise within any time frame.
Not just the apex court’s nudge, the government has also ignored appeals from anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare. Hazare who is planning another satyagraha from 23 March to protest the Centre’s delay in appointing Lokpal claimed that there has been no response to his letters from the PMO.
The Lokpal Act has officially been brought into force on 16 January 2014 but the delay in implementing the law is being attributed to the absence of an LoP in the Lok Sabha. The Lokpal amendment bill was first introduced on 18 December 2014 and was referred to a standing committee that identified nine “areas of concern” in the Lokpal Act. Incidentally, this is one of the seven out of 72 bills referred to the standing committees for legislative scrutiny.
Inexplicably, the amendment to change the LoP clause has not been introduced to date but the government did bring in other changes to the Lokpal. In 2016, an amendment was brought in to change the procedure through which public servants disclose assets and liabilities. The amendment would apply retrospectively, from the date the 2013 law came into force.
The bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha and passed in a few hours without debate and in the Rajya Sabha, the very next day.
While critics argued that the change dilutes the law, the government said the amendment only shows that it is committed to implementing the Lokpal Act.