The Supreme Court’s push for the early appointment of a Lokpal at the Centre to check corruption in high places and its rejection of the Central government’s stand that the delay was due to the absence of a leader of the opposition, who ought to be part of the selection committee, is reasonable and apt. It has indeed left no room for ambiguity by asserting that the appointment of a Lokpal and its members without including the LoP would be perfectly valid under the existing law. Under the relevant rules, for a party to be recognised as “opposition“, it ought to have one-tenth strength of the 542-strong Lok Sabha ¬– a threshold no party could cross in the 2014 elections. The Centre cited this to explain why Lokpal appointment had been delayed. It said a bill was pending in Parliament to include the leader of the largest opposition party in the selection panel when there is no LoP. It also said a parliamentary panel had approved inclusion of the leader of the largest opposition party in the absence of LoP and argued that the anti-corruption watchdog shouldn’t be appointed until Parliament passed the bill. However, the court did not agree.
Under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, which came into force on January 16, 2014, Lokpal was to be selected by a panel comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) or an SC judge nominated by him, Lok Sabha Speaker, LoP and an eminent jurist. The jurist was to be selected by the first four members of the selection panel. The court clarified that if, at present, the LoP is not available, surely, the chairperson and other two members of the selection committee, namely, the Speaker of Lok Sabha and the CJI or his nominee, may proceed to appoint an eminent jurist as a member of the selection committee. There should now be no dragging of feet by the government on this score. There is no denying that the need for a Lokpal has been well-recognised by Parliament. Now that the court has made an important clarification, there should be further dragging of feet by the Central government. The Narendra Modi government has had a creditable record after the erstwhile Congress government gave a poor account of itself on the integrity front. There is no need for it to fight shy of setting up a Lokpal as a corruption watchdog. This is a vital reform on which there should be no looking back.