The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre to decide by September 9 on the status of Leader of Opposition (to represent the Lokpal Selection committee) and made it clear that the Lokpal legislation could not be put into cold storage.
A three-judge Bench of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha and Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton Nariman told Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that the law could not be rendered ineffective due to the delay in taking decision by the government. The Bench was hearing a writ petition filed by NGO `Common Cause’ challenging the provisions of Lokpal Act and its Rules.
Even as the AG submitted that the Centre was reviewing the entire Lokpal Act and the Rules, the CJI said “the court will interpret the term `Leader of Opposition’ under the Lokpal Rules on next date of hearing since the Lokpal selection panel envisaged LoP as one of the five members. If the government fails to resolve Lop issue, the court may give a larger interpretation to the term LoP so that it may include leader of the largest party or leader of the larger group.”
Time and again the CJI has been stressing the importance of striking a balance in separation of powers among the various organs of the Judiciary, Executive and the Legislature. The CJI’s observations on Friday on the role and status of LoP assume significance in this context.
The CJI wondered whether any selection could be fair without the leader of opposition in the Lokpal selection panel. He said “We are not waiting for any amendment or any session of the Parliament. We will interpret it if the government does not do it by the next date of hearing. The Act cannot be kept in cold storage if problems have emerged.”
Counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner faulted the government for relying on the Mavlankar rule framed in 1950. He said “why such a rule should prevail now. If the LoP is not there, the leader of the single largest party can be considered.”
The CJI said “LoP holds a significant position in House of People. LoP is a voice representing views contrary to government. The very position of selection committee will create legal problems in the absence of LoP. The Parliament may not have envisaged such a situation but it now needs to be interpreted so that the process is fast-tracked. The issue needs objective consideration in view of current political situation. The issue of LoP is relevant not only in Lokpal law but also in other existing legislations and it cannot be prolonged.” The CJI said efforts should be made to expedite the Lokpal selection process and posted the matter for further hearing on September 9.