India’s anti-corruption watchdog can be designated in the absence of a head of the opposition, the Supreme Court said on Thursday, calling the 2013 law in its current form a useful piece of legislation. A bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi quoted provisions of the law to hold that the appointment of chairperson or member of the Lokpal will not develop a disability “merely because of the reason of any vacancy in the selection committee.” Earlier, The Supreme Court has questioned the Central government‘s logic behind making Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns, asking whether this would indeed be a remedy to end the generation of fake PAN and ration cards.
If, at an instant, the leader of the opposition is not available, the chairperson and the other two members of the electoral commission the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Chief Justice of India (CJI). Or his nominee may proceed to select an eminent jurist as a panel member to make recommendations to the President, the court said. Similarly, it did not determine any legal disability in a “truncated” selection committee to establish a search committee for preparing a panel of candidates for consideration of the appointment.
However, the court denied the demand to grant primacy to the CJI’s view in selecting eminent jurists as members of the search committee over the other officers, including the Prime Minister and Lok Sabha Speaker. Parliament supported a law to create an independent anti-corruption agency after a delay of approximately 50 years but the hiring of a Lokpal to run it has been stuck on the question of who should be on the appointment panel.
The law wants a leader of the opposition to be a member of the selection committee. The contemporary Lok Sabha does not have a head of the opposition, prompting the government to move an amendment allowing the leader of the largest opposition party to be part of the panel.
The amendments to the definition of the head of the opposition in the Lokpal Act were pending with Parliament. Besides, changes to the bill were made after a parliamentary committee provided positive suggestions last year. During a recording last month, the government said that it was not possible to appoint a Lokpal as there was no leader of the opposition.
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A plea that the government should improve the law within a specific timeframe was turned down by the top court. It refused to read the particular section to give a wider appreciation to the leader of the opposition’s definition until the amendments were through.
“There can be no custom of doubt that the parliamentary wisdom of seeking changes in existing law using a modification lies within the exclusive domain of the legislature and it is not the province of the Court to formulate any opinion on the exercise of the legislative prerogative,” the court said.
“As a policy of zero susceptibility to corruption, the bill seeks to establish in the country, a more efficient mechanism to receive complaints relating to allegations of corruption against public servants,” the court said, underlining the necessity to have the watchdog. These bodies will establish the legal and institutional mechanism.