- The search committee has to send its recommendations by February 28
- The search committee was constituted by the centre in September last year
- It will send names to the selection panel for the appointment of a Lokpal
The Supreme Court has asked the search committee on Lokpal to recommend a panel of names for appointment of the country's first anti-corruption watchdog by February end. Noting that the search committee, which was constituted in September last year had its first meeting only on January 16, Chief Justice Gogoi pulled up the centre and asked Attorney General KK Venugopal, "Why does everything happen when the court is to hear the matter?"
Mr Venugopal told the bench there were certain problems like lack of infrastructure and manpower due to which the search committee was not able to hold deliberations on the issue. The centre was then directed to do what was required to enable the committee to complete its work. The court will hear the matter again on March 7.
An eight-member search committee was constituted by the centre to recommend names to the selection panel, headed by the Prime Minister, for appointment of an anti-corruption Lokpal. The committee is headed by top court Justice (retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO Common Cause, raised concerns about the functioning of the search committee, but was advised to "stay positive" by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
"Don't look at things from a negative point of view. Look at things positively and the world would be a better place. We are trying to make the world a better place," Chief Justice Gogoi said.
The Chief Justice then jokingly said, "Mr Bhushan, you know more things than the judges of this court" after the senior lawyer said no one knows much about this committee.
Earlier this month, the top court had directed the centre to bring on record the steps taken since September to set up a search committee for the Lokpal.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan had said that the government hadn't even made public the members of the search committee on its website.
In July, the top court had rejected the centre's submission on the issue of setting up of a search committee for the Lokpal as "wholly unsatisfactory" and demanded a "better affidavit".
The court was told that the selection committee members had met on July 19, 2018 to deliberate upon names for members of the search committee. Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress lawmaker and leader of single largest party in opposition in Lok Sabha, was also invited for the meeting but he had declined to attend it saying he was invited by the government as a "special invitee" without rights of participation.
The selection panel includes the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, the Lok Sabha Speaker and an eminent jurist. The rules also call for a leader of opposition, but the Congress, the largest opposition group, doesn't have enough numbers to make the cut. In 2014, when the BJP came to power, the Congress was reduced to just 44 seats in the Lok Sabha.
The top court was also told that the selection panel took note that the search committee was to comprise a minimum of seven people, including chairperson, with experience in anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance, policy making, finance including insurance and banking, law and management, etc.
The law to set up a Lokpal or anti-corruption ombudsman was enacted in 2014 after a nationwide campaign by activist Anna Hazare that included Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan.