NEW DELHI, March 7 (AGENCIES): The Supreme Court Thursday asked Attorney General K K Venugopal to inform it within 10 days about a possible date for the meeting of the selection committee, headed by Prime Minister, to appoint the country’s first anti-corruption authority — the Lokpal.
The top court was informed by the Centre that search committee, headed by former apex court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, had recommended to the selection committee three names each for the Lokpal panel — chairperson, judicial member and non-judicial member. It can have maximum of eight member.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi ordered, “We have considered the matter. At this stage, the order which we consider appropriate to pass is to request the Attorney General to inform the Court within ten days from today about the possible date of convening a meeting of the Selection Committee for finalization of the names for constitution of the Lokpal”.
The bench, also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, was told by Venugopal that the search committee in pursuant to the apex court’s earlier order has shortlisted three panels of names and has recommended them on February 28 to the selection committee.
It was hearing a contempt petition filed by NGO Common Cause which has raised the issue of non-appointment of Lokpal despite the apex court’s judgement of April 27, 2017.
The top court also refused to pass any direction for putting the names shortlisted by the search committee in public domain after advocate Prashant Bhushan appearing for petitioner NGO argued that the Lokpal Act mentions about transparency and therefore names should be uploaded on the website.
“So far as the prayer of Mr. Bhushan, for putting the names recommended by the Search Committee in the public domain is concerned, we have considered the provisions of Section 4(4) of the Act and it is our considered view that no direction from the Court should be issued in this regard,” the bench said. The court said that the matter should be now left for a just determination by the Selection Committee as and when the meeting of the Committee is convened.
At the outset, the bench asked the Attorney General as by when will the meeting of selection committee can be convened. Venugopal replied that he would ask secretary of Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT) to convene the meeting as soon as possible. He said that search committee has recommended three panel of three names each for the post of chairman, judicial member and non-judicial member to the selection committee.
The bench said as per the Lokpal Act the selection committee comprises of the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India or his nominee, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the leader of opposition and an eminent jurist. “There is no leader of opposition at present then who would represent him. Will the leader of single largest opposition party will be invited as no amendments were carried out in the Act to replace ‘leader of opposition’ with ‘leader of single largest opposition party’,” the bench asked Venugopal.
To this, he replied that the arrangement would be similar as done in the appointment of CBI director, where leader of single largest opposition party is part of the high powered appointment committee. Venugopal said that leader of single largest opposition party Mallikarjun Kharge will be invited for the meeting of selection committee for appointment of Lokpal and its members.
“So, he (Kharge) is being invited as a special invitee and that is his objection,” the bench said. When Bhushan said that names shortlisted by the search committee should be uploaded on the websites as the Lokpal Act requires transparency should be there in the selection process.
To this, the bench said the Act does not say that names should be put in public domain and objections are called from public. “People understand the word transparency in their own perspective. It is a subjective term and has its own connotation. Mr Bhushan, we appreciate the good work you have done but there has to be a limit somewhere. We don’t think names are required to be put in public domain,” the bench said while listing the matter for further hearing after ten days.
The top court had on January 17, requested the search committee to recommend by February end a panel of names for appointing the country’s first anti-graft ombudsman. The top court on July 24 last year had rejected as “wholly unsatisfactory” the Centre’s submission on the issue of setting up of a search committee for Lokpal and demanded a “better affidavit”.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who is the leader of the largest opposition party, has been giving a go by to the meetings of the selection panel.