New Delhi, March 6 : The central government on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that the selection committee for the appointment of the Lokpal met on March 1 and decided to fill the vacancy of the eminent jurist before taking further steps.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice R. Banumathi that he did not inquire about the time frame under which it would be done.
The position has become vacant due to the passing away of well-known jurist P.P. Rao.
The court was also informed that Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge was invited to the selection committee as a “special invitee” but declined to attend the meeting taking exception to status as a “special invitee”.
In pursuance to a February 23 direction of the court, an affidavit giving the details of the March 1 meeting was filed on Monday.
The top court by its February 23 order had said that the Personnel & Training Department Secretary will file an affidavit indicating the steps taken and proposed to be taken.
The court adjourned the matter for April 17 to see what further progress is made on the appointment of the Lokpal.
Pointing to the pace at which the process leading to the appointment of the Lokpal was moving, counsel Prashant Bhushan said the Lokpal Act was passed nearly four years ago and the court judgment came nearly a year ago and yet nothing seems to be happening.
An NGO had moved the contempt plea after the government did not act on the April 27, 2017 judgment of the top court, holding that the “(Lokpal) Act, as it stands today, is an eminently workable piece of legislation and there is no justification to keep the enforcement of the Act under suspension till the amendments, as proposed, are carried out”.
The court’s observation had come while addressing a question whether the Lokpal law, as it existed, is so “unworkable” that it (court) should refuse its enforcement, notwithstanding that the Lokpal Act had come into force by a January 16, 2014 notification.
The Centre had flagged two hurdles in implementing the Lokpal law, one of which was that it provides that the selection panel should have the Leader of Opposition (LOP) as one of its members, but there is no recognised LoP in the current 16th Lok Sabha.
The other hurdle it cited related to the tenure of the eminent jurist to be appointed by the selection committee.
Referring to the provisions of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, and the amendments the government wanted to bring about, the judgment had said that Sub-Section (2) of Section 4 of the Lokpal Act says that the appointment of the Chairperson or a Member of the Lokpal will not become invalid merely because of the reason of any vacancy in the selection committee.
Extending this to the appointment of an eminent jurist by the selection panel, the court said: “If, at present, the LoP is not available, surely, the Chairperson and the other two Members of the Selection Committee, namely, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India or his nominee may proceed to appoint an eminent jurist as a member of the selection committee under Section 4(1)(e) of the Act.”
Justice Gogoi said: “We also do not see any legal disability in a truncated selection committee to constitute a search committee for preparing a panel of persons for consideration for appointment as the Chairperson and Members of the Lokpal” and recommending the same to the President for appointment.