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Search committee led by retired SC judge, Justice Ranjana Desai was constituted on September 27 to recommend names but has not held a single meeting yet

With little headway by the Centre in appointing a Lokpal, the Supreme Court, on Thursday (January 17) directed that the search committee constituted to recommend names for the post must do so by February-end. The search committee, headed by former apex court judge Justice (retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai, was constituted on September 27 last year but has not met even once since its formation.

An apex court bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices L Nageswara Rao and Sanjay Kishan Kaul directed the Centre to provide the search committee the requisite infrastructure and manpower to enable it to complete its work. The bench has posted the case, filed by NGO Common Cause seeking appointment of the ombudsman at the earliest, for its next hearing on March 7.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, told the bench that the delay in recommending names by search committee was due to lack of infrastructure and manpower due to which the panel had not been able to hold discussions on the issue.

The apex court had, on January 4, directed the Centre to file an affidavit before it listing the steps taken till date for appointment of the Lokpal. It had also expressed its displeasure over the tardy progress made by the Centre so far in appointing the country’s first ombudsman, the enabling legislation for which had been passed by Parliament five years ago during the UPA-II government.

The search committee headed by Justice Desai has to shortlist recommendations for the post and forward the names to the selection committee members comprising the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi as an eminent jurist.

Earlier, on July 24 last year, the Supreme Court had rejected as “wholly unsatisfactory” the Centre’s submission on the issue of setting up of a search committee for the Lokpal and demanded a “better affidavit”.

The top court had then been informed that the search committee is to comprise of 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.

Later, on September 27, 2018, the Centre finally constituted an eight-member search committee headed by Justice Desai to recommend names to the selection panel for appointment of a Lokpal. The committee also includes among its members, former chief of State Bank of India Arundhati Bhattacharya, Prasar Bharati chairperson A Surya Prakash, Indian Space Research Organisation head AS Kiran Kumar, former judge of Allahabad High Court Sakha Ram Singh Yadav, former Gujarat Police head SS Khandwala, retired IAS officer of Rajasthan cadre Lalit Panwar, and former Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar.

—India Legal Bureau

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