Ahmedabad/New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the appointment of retired judge R.A. Mehta as Gujarat’s anti-corruption ombudsman, or Lokayukta, which chief minister Narendra Modi had challenged as illegal.
After the verdict, Modi, who last month led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a third consecutive victory in Gujarat, said the state will implement the court’s order at the earliest.
The Gujarat government had appealed before the Supreme Court that the appointment of Mehta by state governor Kamla Beniwal was illegal as it had been done without consulting it.
A bench of justices B.S. Chauhan and F.M. Ibrahim Kalifulla, however, upheld the appointment as it had been done in consultation with the then chief justice of the Gujarat high court, S.J. Mukhopadhaya, who is now a judge in the Supreme Court.
The apex court said Mehta can go ahead with his work as Gujarat’s Lokayukta.
“We will implement the court verdict regarding the appointment. We will offer our detailed comment only after studying the judgment delivered by the apex court,” Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, Gujarat’s law and justice minister, said at a media gathering at the chief minister’s residence in Gandhinagar.
Governor Beniwal on 25 August 2011, appointed justice Mehta to the post of Gujarat Lokayukta. The post had been lying vacant since 2003, after the three-year term of justice S.M. Soni ended. She did this without waiting for a recommendation from the state government.
The state government challenged the matter in the Gujarat high court, contending that the governor’s action was unilateral, without the aid and advice of the council of ministers.
The court ruled in the governor’s favour, stressing that the recommendation by the chief justice of the Gujarat high court got primacy in the matter.
Modi had written to Mukhopadhaya a couple of times insisting that he suggest justice J.R. Vora instead as the state Lokayukta.
In reply to one of the letters dated 23 March 2011, Mukhopadhaya wrote that justice Vora had been appointed director of the Gujarat State Judicial Academy and, hence, his name could not be considered.
“The big question, however, remains is why was the BJP trying for the last eight years that there should be no Lokayukta in the state?” Rashid Alvi, Congress spokesperson, asked reporters on Wednesday in New Delhi. “What was the reason behind it? What were they trying to hide?”
In the absence of a Lokayukta, the Gujarat government in 2011 constituted a commission to probe into allegations of corruptions and wrongdoings in the state.
The commission, headed by retired justice M.B. Shah, which probed the corruption charges levelled against the Modi government, in its first report submitted in October gave the state government a clean chit in nine of the 17 allegations.
The commission was appointed by the Modi government after the Congress submitted a memorandum to the president alleging that the state government had extended benefits worth at least Rs.1 trillion to certain industries.
PTI contributed to this story.