New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the government to immediately implement the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act and appoint a Lokpal.
The statutory post of Lokpal has been vacant since the law was enacted in 2013.
A bench comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha rejected the government’s contention that a Lokpal cannot be appointed because certain amendments to the law are pending before Parliament.
“There is no justification to keep the enforcement of the Act under suspension till the proposed amendments are carried out," the court said.
The court’s order came in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed in 2014 by advocate Prashant Bhushan-led Common Cause, which challenged the constitutionality of the search committee rules for appointment of Lokpal.
The apex court has repeatedly hauled up the government for not appointing a Lokpal. The Centre, on its part, has argued that in the absence of a leader of the opposition in Parliament, the selection committee could not be constituted.
Currently, a bill to amend the law to include the leader of the largest opposition party in the search committee is pending before Parliament.
In the Lok Sabha, the largest opposition party is the Congress which has only 44 members and lacks the requisite 10% of 545 seats, giving rise to the requirement to amend the Lokpal Act.
“If, at present, the LoP (leader of the opposition) 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," the court said in its order.
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act was passed in 2013 to constitute a statutory body to inquire into allegations of corruption against certain public functionaries.
“We have not seen the order yet. We can comment only after reading the order," said a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, who did not wish to be named.
“Difference between rhetoric and delivery is an unbridgeable gap when it comes to BJP government. For a PM who rode to power on the promise of transparency and accountability, it took the Supreme Court to direct the government to appoint a Lokpal," said Randeep Singh Surjewala, chief spokesperson of the Congress party.
Analysts blame the delay in appointment of Lokpal on the lack of political will.
“The purpose of the Lokpal law stands defeated. The law is in force but there is no institution in place. It all comes down to political will. The kind of unanimity which was visible while passing the Bill in Parliament is visible again but in an exactly opposite context. There is no urgency visible either in the treasury or the opposition benches," said Venkatesh Nayak, coordinator of the Access to Information Programme at the New Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
Anuja and Gyan Verma contributed to the story.