SC upholds appointment of Gujarat Lokayukta
Verdict a setback for Narendra Modi government
The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the appointment of Justice R A Mehta, a retired High Court judge, as Gujarat Lokayukta, disregarding the state government’s opposition to his choice and objection to the selection process.
The apex court’s verdict came as a major setback to the Narendra Modi government which had challenged Governor Kamla Beniwal’s decision to go ahead with the appointment.
A bench of Justices B S Chauhan and F M I Kalifullah said the appointment was valid in law in view of the primacy of opinion by the High Court chief justice since he enjoyed an independent Constitutional status.
The governor, the High Court chief justice and the Leader of the Opposition in state Assembly had approved Justice Mehta’s choice to head the state anti-corruption watchdog.
However, the court in its judgment held that the governor could not appoint Lokayukta independently and went on to criticise Kamla Beniwal for completely bypassing the state government’s role in the appointment of the Lokayukta on August 25, 2011.
“The present governor has misjudged her role and has insisted that under the Act, the council of ministers has no role to play in the appointment of the Lokayukta, and that she could, therefore, fill it up in consultation with the chief justice of the Gujarat High Court and the Leader of Opposition. Such attitude is not in conformity, or in consonance with the democratic set-up of government envisaged in our Constitution,” the court said.
The apex court directed Justice Mehta to join immediately, while describing it as a “sorry state of affairs” where the post of Lokayukta had been lying vacant in Gujarat for more than nine years.
As far as the consultation process in appointment was concerned, the court noted that it was duly complete in August 2011 as per the Gujarat Lokayukta Act when three out of four statutory authorities—chief justice, governor and the Leader of Opposition—approved the name of Justice Mehta and that the chief justice also provided explanation to the chief minister, the fourth authority, on his objections.
But it added, “The appointment of the Lokayukta can be made by the governor, as the head of the state, only with the aid and advice of the council of ministers, and not independently as a statutory authority.”
Modi had shot off a letter in June 2011 to the High Court chief justice to re-consider Justice Mehta’s name in view of reports stating his association with certain NGOs and social activist groups, antagonists to the state government.
The chief justice had, however, termed Modi’s apprehensions as either irrelevant or not factually correct.
In its verdict, the court also disapproved the “harsh language” used by a third judge, against the chief minister who was a constitutional authority, like Modi demonstrated “deconstruction of democracy.”
The matter was referred to a third judge in the High Court following a split verdict in a division bench in the petition filed by the Gujarat government challenging the governor’s decision.