Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi’s observation that anti-corruption watchdogs, such as the first Lokpal, Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), director of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Chief Information Officer (CIC), could be legally appointed without necessarily having in place a Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha is an interesting development which might open up the clogged channels of picking these eminent officebearers. AG Rohatgi’s advice that appointments in various statutory bodies including Lokpal and CVC needn’t be hurdled by the absence of a recognised LoP in Lok Sabha, the chief cauldron to formulate and pass legislations, is based on solid legal foundations.
All four laws pertaining to the anti-corruption legislations, including the Protection of Human Rights Act (1993), the CVC Act (2003), RTI Act (2005) and the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act (2013), have in them the provision that the selection ‘shall not be rendered invalid under any of the Acts merely on account of a vacancy of any member in the committees.’ As the AG pointed out, two of the four Acts (CVC and RTI) deal with the conjecture when there’s no leader of opposition in lower house of Parliament as recognized by the Speaker, and go on to ratify the crucial appointments nevertheless.
Given the sorry situation of our parliamentary politics, with the Congress down to 44 seats in Lok Sabha, party president Sonia Gandhi’s plea to be appointed as LoP in the lower house has been met with veiled derision as well as legal scruples. However, to keep the country devoid of significant anti-corruption watchdogs till the time this conundrum is duly solved would be gross injustice. It is a welcome step therefore that AG Rohatgi has shown a way out of this uncertainty.
However, that brings us to the next set of concerns. The CVC’s post is now empty with former CVC Pradeep Kumar retiring in October last, and incumbent CBI director Ranjit Sinha too will pack up his bags and leave since his tenure is coming to an end in Dec this year. The first Lokpal is yet to be appointed, even though the ombudsman act was passed through ordinance route and there’s fear that this extremely important portfolio can be marred if the appointment becomes a politically charged maneuver. Given that during UPA period, the top investigation body saw questionable appointments, namely in A P Singh and Ranjit Sinha, it is justified to be wary of the happenings in this regime too.