Blatant action.

The refusal of former Supreme Court judge Justice K T Thomas to head the Lokpal search committee has not only caused a second embarrassment for the UPA government but again exposed infirmities in the selection process for this vital post.

Justice Thomas is the second legal luminary to opt out of the process after senior lawyer FS Nariman withdrew from the  search panel over a week ago. Justice Thomas did not give his reason for dissociation with the panel in as stinging terms as Nariman did, but essentially he agreed with the latter who felt that the  selection process, as conceived now, would overlook “the most competent, the most independent and the most courageous” person for the post. Both agree that the two-tier selection process is faulty and leaves scope for less than ideal considerations to prevail in the final choice.

The search committee’s job is only to shortlist the candidates whose names are forwarded to it by the government, and the final decision rests with the selection committee headed by the prime minister. The government’s nomination of Supreme Court lawyer P P Rao, who is considered sympathetic to the Congress, for the selection panel, disregarding the objection of the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, has already become controversial. When consultation with the opposition is prescribed, it is always best to evolve a consensus over the choice of persons for important non-political positions. When the government asserts itself to have its way,  it is an indication of its keenness to have its own preferred person in the office. This works against the idea of impartial selection and finding the most suitable person for the office. 

Justice Thomas’ view that inviting applications for Lokpal membership would deter many deserving persons from being considered is also correct. No eminent person with self-respect would apply for the positions when there is a chance of being rejected. Many others have also drawn attention to this problem of procedure. When the composition and functioning of both the search committee and the selection panel have become controversial, it is doubtful whether the right and best choices can be made any time early. The government’s haste in rushing the process and making the selection has also raised questions. The UPA government is a lame duck government now and has got only a few weeks left in office. If its dubious considerations and interests dominate the selection process, the office will lack credibility.

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