The NDA government has finally put in place a search committee to recommend the names of the chairperson and members of the anti-corruption ombudsman Lokpal. But the setting up of the committee may not be taken as proof of the government’s keenness to appoint the Lokpal but may rather be considered as an action to show the Supreme Court that some progress is being made in the process to find one. The eight-member committee is headed by a former apex court judge, Justice Ranjana Desai, and has members from various fields like the civil service, banking, media, science and the law. A search committee had been formed during the UPA government’s tenure also in 2014 but the exercise to appoint the Lokpal did not take off. The composition of the selection panel had attracted criticism then as it included a jurist who was considered close to the ruling party. The search panel announced by the present government may also face the same criticism.
The Narendra Modi government has sat on the appointment of the Lokpal for over four years and so the present exercise cannot be considered genuine and sincere. It may have acted because of the pressure from the Supreme Court and just in time to thwart Anna Hazare, who had threatened to start a protest on October 2. We know what Hazare’s campaign for Lokpal did to the UPA government. Moreover, the court has repeatedly pulled up the government for its failure to appoint a Lokpal. It had even issued a directive to it on the matter. The government told the court some months ago that the search committee was being set up, but it is only now that the names have been announced.
The people have waited for the Lokpal for many years. The government first gave the excuse that there was no Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha who, according to the Lokpal Act, should be a member of the selection committee. It refused to amend the law as it had done in the case of other offices like the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Later, it invited Congress parliamentary party leader Mallikarjun Kharge as a special invitee, one who could observe but had no say in the appointment. Kharge rightly declined the invitation. Considering the government’s past inaction and negative attitudes, the present move may not reach the stage of appointment of the Lokpal. If it does, then a more serious question will arise. That is about the propriety of the government making an important appointment when it has only a few months left in its tenure.