Lokpal and the law
The ruling that the existing legislation is workable is an indictment of the government
The Centre’s obvious reluctance to set up a statutory anti-corruption institution stands completely exposed after the Supreme Court made it clear that the existing Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 is workable on its own, without having to be amended as proposed by the government. The court’s order that the law, notified in 2014, is good to go is an indictment of the delay in establishing the Lokpal. It is a rejection of the attempt to explain the delay on the ground that a parliamentary standing committee’s report on proposed amendments is still under consideration. The government was on weak legal footing when it claimed it was awaiting the passage of these amendments, mainly of one that related to the leader of the largest party in opposition in the Lok Sabha being considered as the Leader of the Opposition for the purposes of forming the Selection Committee to choose the Lokpal. The selection panel consists of the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition, the Chief Justice of India or his nominee, and an eminent jurist chosen by them. The court has noted that the Act provides for the selection committee to make appointments even when it is truncated due to a vacancy. It has made it clear that the fact that some amendments have been proposed and a parliamentary panel has submitted a report would not constitute a legal bar on enforcing the existing law.
The court has rightly refused to read down the provision on the Leader of the Opposition to mean “the leader of the largest party in the opposition”. At the same time, it is curious that an amendment to this effect is pending since 2014, even after it was endorsed by the parliamentary committee in its December 2015 report. Provisions relating to the selection of the Chief Information Commissioner and the Central Bureau of Investigation Director have been amended to treat the leader of the largest opposition party as the Leader of the Opposition in the absence of anyone recognised as such. The delay in passing this simple amendment is inexplicable. Another provision relating to the declaration of assets by public servants was amended last year. A simple way of resolving the impasse was to recognise the Congress party leader in the Lok Sabha as the Leader of the Opposition. There is no law, except a direction from the chair when G.V. Mavalankar was Speaker, that says recognition is given only to a party that has won 10% of the seats in the Lower House. A 1977 Act on the salary of the Opposition Leader defines the position as the leader of the largest party in the opposition and recognised as such by the Speaker. An inescapable inference is that the country does not have an anti-corruption ombudsman not due to any legal bar, but due to the absence of political will.