SC decides to interpret LoP provision for Lokpal, asks for Centres views

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Aug 23 2014, 08:21am hrs
Flaying the Narendra Modi government for keeping the Lokpal Act in limbo,the Supreme Court on Friday agreed to interpret the leader of opposition (LoP) provision for the purpose of appointment of the anti-graft watchdog and other important posts in which LoP has a major say as a selection committee member.

Stating that an important law like this can not be kept in cold storage, a bench headed by Chief Justice RK Lodha emphasised on the importance of the post.

LoP conveys the voice of a representative different from the government in the House. LoP is a very important position and the issue needs objective consideration in view of the current political situation where at present there is no leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha... the issue of LoP is relevant not only in Lokpal law but also in other existing and incoming legislations lile CVC Act, etc, it said, questioning the government whether any selection can be fair without such important stautory post.

It gave the government time till September 9 to come up its views on the selection panel comprising the Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha.

Congress, as the second largest party in the Lok Sabha with 44 seats, has been making a strong bid for the LoP post but the ruling BJP has not acceded, saying the opposition party does not have the requisite 10% seats which meant it needed 55 seats in a house of 543 to stake claim.

Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi told the court it is undertaking substantial review of Lokpal Act and rules to address many concerns.

Latching on to the apex court's observations on the LoP issue, the Congress party said it vindicates the party's stand and alleged that the Speaker's decision to deny the LoP status to it in Lok Sabha appeared coloured by BJP's partisan agenda.

The Supreme Court observation has actually vindicated what the Congress and the UPA have been saying through out. The decision of the Speaker was in utter disregard to law and appears to be clearly influenced and coloured by the partisan agenda of the BJP-led government, Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said soon after the hearing.

Hitting out at the government over denial of LoP status to Congress, Sharma said that when the Congress had made a representation to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan in this regard, it had hoped that she will take a fair and just view.

Attacking the Prime Minister, the Congress leader said that disrespecting Opposition, disrespecting laws and insulting leaders of other parties, Chief Ministers. All this are reflective of a mindset, which is determined to undermine institutions and established conventions and norms of the Constitution... No ruling and observation of Speakers can override a law of Parliament and the law has it that the single largest Opposition party does not require any specific number in Lok Sabha to claim the LoP status. It was the right of the Congress party.

Meanwhile, home minister Rajnath Singh asked the Congress to honour the decision of the Speaker not to grant the status of Leader of Opposition to it in the Lok Sabha. As per the Constitution, a party must get 10% seat (for Leader of Opposition status). But unfortunately it did not happen. So, they should accept it, the minister told reporters here.

SC notice to Centre, EC over Cong plea on foreign funding

The Supreme Court on Friday sought reply from the Centre, the Election Commission and others on a petition filed by the Congress party challenging the Delhi High Courts order that indicted it and the BJP of receiving foreign donations from Anil Agarwal-owned Vedanta subsidiaries in violation of provisions of Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976 (FCRA).

While agreeing to look into the issue, a bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha said that the Act required interpretation, but refused to stay the HC order.

It, however, gave liberty to the party to approach it if any coercive action or prosecution is launched by the Home Ministry against it in compliance of the HCs March 28 order.

Senior advocate and former Law Minister Kapil Sibal, appearing for the party, submitted that there is no concealment or suppression of such contribution which were duly reflected in the returns submitted to the Election Commission.

He said that Vedanta is owned by an Indian citizen, Aggarwal, and its subsidiaries are incorporated here, therefore they are not foreign sources.

Congress in its appeal stated that an India citizen resident outside India can make a contribution to a candidate or a political party or office bearer thereof.

What is prohibited is the foreign source of contributions by citizens of a foreign country or territory.

Agarwal and members of his family hold more than 50% in Vedanta PLC and any contributions made by them will not be deemed to be contributions from a foreign source even though Vedanta PLC is a foreign company for the purposes of Section 591 of the Companies Act, the petition stated.

According to the Congress party, there was no concealment or suppression of contributions made by Sterlite and Sesa Goa in 2007-08 and 2009-10 and that duly reflected in the returns submitted to the Election Commission.

The HC had asked the home ministry and EC to relook and reappraise the receipts of the political parties and identify foreign contributions received by foreign sources and take action within six months.

Interpreting the FCRA 1976 and the Companies Act, the HC held that Vedanta is a foreign company within the meaning of the Companies Act, 1956 and therefore, the company and its subsidiaries, Sterlite and Sesa, are foreign sources as per the FCRA.