Appointing eminent jurist in Lokpal panel priority: SC told
New Delhi: The selection committee for appointing Lokpal has decided to first fill the vacancy of eminent jurist in the panel before taking further action, the Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court on the March 1 meeting of the committee in which Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge declined to participate as a special invitee.
Those who participated in the meeting were the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Lok Sabha Speaker, as the chairman and members of the selection committee respectively.
"Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of Indian National Congress which is the single largest party in opposition in the Lok Sabha, who was invited to attend the meeting as 'special invitee', declined to attend the meeting," the affidavit filed by the Centre said, adding that Kharge had sent a communication in this regard on February 28.
At the outset, Attorney General KK Venugopal referred to the affidavit filed by the Department of Personnel and Training before a bench of justices Ranjan Gogoi and R Banumathi which was told that the selection committee has taken note of the vacancy of eminent person and has decided to fill it up at the earliest before proceeding with the matter.
The post of eminent jurist has fallen vacant due to the passing away of senior advocate PP Rao last year.
Taking note of the submission of the Attorney General and the Centre's affidavit, the bench asked "Is there any indication when this eminent jurist will be selected?"
When Venugopal replied that it would be done "at the earliest", the bench observed, "at the earliest means neither here nor there."
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO Common Cause, which has filed a plea seeking initiation of contempt proceedings for not appointing a Lokpal despite the apex court's verdict of April 27 last year, told the bench that it was quiet clear that the government does not want to appoint Lokpal and they were simply dragging their feet.
He said that almost an year has gone by since the apex court had passed a judgement but nothing has been done and only after the contempt plea was filed before the top court, a meeting of the selection committee was scheduled for March 1.
The bench, which posted the matter for April 17, said, "let us see what they do in these four weeks."
In the affidavit, the Centre gave the details of the the steps taken and proposed under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.
It said that the Supreme Court's April 27, 2017 verdict was duly considered by the competent authority of the central government.
"Taking note of the judgement in letter and spirit, the chairperson of the selection committee, viz, the Prime Minister took a decision on February 22 to convene a meeting of the selection committee as provided under section 4 (1) of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act," the affidavit said.
The notice of the meeting addressed to the members of the selection committee was issued on February 22 and it was scheduled for March 1 at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg in Delhi, the official residence of the Prime Minister, it said.
The committee took note of the vacancy in the position of 'eminent jurist' in the selection committee and "it was decided first to fill up the vacancy of the 'eminent jurist' as a member of the selection committee under the Act at the earliest before proceeding further in the matter", it said.
The Centre said that the selection committee is currently seized with the matter and once the 'eminent jurist' is appointed as a member in the existing vacancy, further steps will be taken by the selection committee to proceed in the matter.
The Centre had, on February 23, told the apex court that the process for appointing the anti-graft ombudsman Lokpal was going on.
The court had asked the secretary of the Department of Personnel and Training to file an affidavit about the "steps taken and proposed".
The top court, in its verdict last year, had said there was no justification to keep the enforcement of Lokpal Act suspended till the proposed amendments, including on the issue of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, were cleared by the Parliament.