Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his arrival at Chandigarh Airport on Thursday. PTI Photo )
Three years after the Lokpal Act came into effect, the Centre is yet to set up the office of the ombudsman and enforce the law. On Thursday, the Supreme Court of India told Modi government at the Centre that there was “no justification” to keep the enforcement of the Lokpal Act 2013 suspended. Appearing on behalf of the Centre, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the top court that Lokpal could not be appointed because the amendments regarding the Leader of Opposition in the Lokpal law was still pending before the Parliament. The Attorney General also said that the legislature could not be directed to frame or amend any law within any time-frame.
The Lokpal Act 2013 was created by the legislature to set the office of Lokpal, which would probe into the allegations of corruption against certain public functionaries.
A batch of petitions in this matter was filed by NGO Common Cause and others which accused the Centre of “deliberately” not appointing the Lokpal. A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha made the following 15 important observations during the hearing of the petitions on Thursday. Take a look:
The Lokpal Act “does not create any bar to the enforcement of the provisions”. The apex court said that the amendments proposed to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013, and the views of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, were attempts at streamlining the working of the Act and does not constitute legal hindrances or bars its enforcement as it stands today.
Attempts for amendment cannot halt the operation and execution of the law which the executive in its wisdom has already given effect to and has brought into force by resorting to the provisions of the Act.
“We, therefore, conclude by quoting Justice Krishna Iyer in reference, the Special Courts Bill, 1978 and holding that the Act as it stands today is an eminently workable piece of legislation and there is no justification to keep the enforcement of the Act under suspension till the amendments, as proposed, are carried out.”
The Parliamentary wisdom of seeking changes in an existing law by means of an amendment lies within the “exclusive domain of the legislature and it is not the province of the court” to express any opinion on the exercise of the legislative prerogative in this regard.
Section 4(2) of the Act makes it clear that the appointment of Chairperson or a Member of the Lokpal will not become invalid merely because of the reason of any vacancy in the selection committee.
“If, at present, the LOP is not available, surely, the Chairperson and the other two members of the Selection Committee, namely, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India or his nominee may proceed to appoint an eminent jurist as a member of the Selection Committee under Section 4(1)(e) of the Act,” the bench said.
“We also do not see any legal disability in a truncated Selection Committee to constitute a Search Committee for preparing a panel of persons for consideration for appointment as the Chairperson and members of the Lokpal and also for such a truncated Selection Committee to make recommendations to the President of India for appointment of the Chairperson and members of the Lokpal.”
There is no specific provision akin to section 4 (2) of the Act insofar as the constitution of the Search Committee by a truncated Selection Committee is concerned.
“But, the absence of such a provision, by itself, will not invalidate the constitution of the Search Committee by the truncated Selection Committee when the Act specifically ’empowers’ a truncated Selection Committee to make recommendations for appointment of the Chairperson or Members of the Lokpal. To hold otherwise would be self-contradictory.”
The proposed amendment to Section 4(3) of the Act would be clarificatory and will not amount to an attempt to cure a shortcoming in the Act which is proving to be an inhibition in law to the appointment of Chairperson or members of the Lokpal.
“The view of the Parliamentary Standing Committee with regard to the expediency of the Search/Selection Committee taking decisions when vacancy/ vacancies exists/exist is merely an opinion with which the Executive, in the first instance, has to consider and, thereafter, the legislature has to approve.”
“The said opinion of the Parliamentary Standing Committee would therefore not be sacrosanct. The same, in any case, does not have any material bearing on the validity of the existing provisions of the Act.”
Any interference by the court, at this juncture, would negate the basic constitutional principle that the “legislature is supreme in the sphere of lawmaking”.
“The constitutional doctrine of separation of powers and demarcation of the respective jurisdiction of the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary under the constitutional framework would lead the court to the conclusion that the exercise of the amendment of the Act, which is presently underway, must be allowed to be completed without any intervention of the court,” it said.
“Reading down a statute to make it workable in a situation where an exercise of amendment of the law is pending will not be justified either. A perception, however, strong of the imminent need of the law en-grafted in the Act and its beneficial effects on the citizenry of a democratic country, by itself, will not permit the court to overstep its jurisdiction. Judicial discipline must caution the court against such an approach.”
(Inputs from PTI)