The Supreme Court on Thursday held that there is no justification to put appointment of Lokpal on hold. Turning down the Centre’s argument to keep the Lokpal Act in suspension till the relevant laws are amended, the court said the Act, as it stands now, is enforceable.

Earlier, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had submitted to court that there was no clarity on who the ‘Leader of the opposition’ is and stated that the Lok Sabha had declined to accept Congress leader, Mallikarjun Kharge, as the leader of the opposition.

Centre had also informed the apex court that the parliament was considering over 20 changes in the Lokpal law and the “judiciary cannot pass an order on how and when the amendments be passed,” and hence requested the court to refrain from passing an order.

However, Shanti Bhushan, who was representing the NGO Common Cause, on whose behalf the PIL was filed, did not agree with Rohatgi and stated that the government never had “any intention to have an independent body like the Lokpal, which can investigate ministers.” Bhushan had also mentioned that when a law which has been duly passed is not operative, then it is “the constitutional duty of the courts to intervene.”

During an earlier hearing, the court had rapped the government over the delay in appointment of Lokpal and had warned the Centre that the law should not end up becoming a “dead letter.”

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, provides for selection of chairperson and members of Lokpal by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, LoP in Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India or a sitting SC judge nominated by the him, and an eminent jurist to be nominated by President of India on the basis of recommendations of first four members of selection panel.

Civil society has welcome the Supreme Court directive. Jagdeep Chhokar, founder and trustee of the Association for Democratic Reforms, an NGO working on transparency in political funding, said, “There is a clause that the selection committee for appointing a Lokpal will consist of the Prime Minister and Leader of The Opposition, among others. The government’s stand is that since there is no leader of the opposition at present, and that they cannot fulfill this requirement. This is a flimsy excuse. What prevents them from taking into confidence the leader of the second largest legislature party?”

Vipul Mudgal, director of Common Cause, the main petitioner in the case, said, “The government will have to change the search committee rules regarding the appointment of the Lokpal after the Supreme Court observations because this is what we challenged them on.”

Common Cause filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court in 2014 challenging the arbitrary search committee rules for the Lokpal. According to Common Cause, the rules notified by the government undermined the independence of the Lokpal by restricting the field of selection to the hand-picked nominees of the government.

They also gave undue advantage to senior bureaucrats in the appointment as non-judicial members of the anti-corruption body. Common Cause calls this a “blatant abuse” of the device of delegated legislation.

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