The apex court had on January 17 asked the search committee to complete its deliberations and recommend a panel of names of candidates, who could be considered for the chief and members of the Lokpal, by the end of February.
An eight-member search panel formed to select members of anti-corruption ombudsman Lokpal Tuesday held its first meeting, nearly four months after it was set up by the Modi government, officials said. The committee, headed by former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, is understood to have discussed modalities related to the appointments of the chief and members of Lokpal, they said, without citing further details.
The meeting comes days after the Supreme Court set up a February-end deadline for the search committee to send a panel of names who could be considered for the appointment as chairman and members of Lokpal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led selection committee. The apex court had on January 17 asked the search committee to complete its deliberations and recommend a panel of names of candidates, who could be considered for the chief and members of the Lokpal, by the end of February.
The Lokpal Act, which envisages establishment of the anti-graft body Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states to look into cases of corruption against certain categories of public servants, was passed in 2013. The search committee, formed in September last year despite concerns raised by the Congress, has former chief of State Bank of India (SBI) Arundhati Bhattacharya, Prasar Bharati chairperson A Surya Prakash and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) head A S Kiran Kumar as members. Besides them, former Allahabad High Court judge Sakha Ram Singh Yadav; former Gujarat Police head Shabbirhusein S Khandwawala; retired IAS officer of Rajasthan cadre Lalit K Panwar; and Ranjit Kumar are the other members of the panel.
The search committee was formed apparently ignoring the concerns raised by Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who has been boycotting meetings of the selection panel, a senior government official said. Kharge had been boycotting the selection committee meeting on the pretext that he is not made a full-fledged member in the panel. He had rejected the invitation extended to him to attend the meetings of the selection committee held last year on six occasions– March 1, April 10, July 19, August 21, September 4 and September 19 — as a “special invitee”.
Kharge had earlier urged the government to amend the Lokpal Act to include the leader of the single largest opposition party in Lok Sabha in the selection committee and bring an ordinance in this regard. According to the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, only the leader of the opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha is a member of the selection committee and since Kharge does not have that status, he is not a part of the panel.
A party should have at least 55 seats or 10 per cent of the strength of the Lok Sabha for its leader to get the LoP status. The Congress is the single largest opposition party in the Lower House but its leader could not be given the LoP status as it does not have the requisite number to qualify for it, the official said.
The Lokpal selection committee headed by the prime minister has as its members the Lok Sabha speaker, leader of the opposition in the lower house, the chief justice of India or a judge of the apex court nominated by him, and an eminent jurist who could be nominated by the president or any other member.
Upon the recommendations of the selection committee in its meeting held on April 10, President Ram Nath Kovind had nominated Mukul Rohatgi, former Attorney General of India as ’eminent jurist’ member of the panel against the vacancy arising following the death of senior advocate P P Rao.