Concerned that despite being senior jurists, all they were being asked to do is endorse the government’s choice of Lok Pal
, the man heading the search for the nine members of the Lok Pal or national anti-corruption ombudsman has quit his assignment.
In a letter to the Prime Minister's Office, Justice KT Thomas
complains that the committee he chaired "cannot make any independent search to find out the most deserving persons" but has to restrict its review to a list of candidates submitted by the central government. This setback comes a day afterthe government opted not to move forward on anti-corruption ordinances for fearthat the President of India might return them, just ahead of an upcominggeneral election.
"I wonder why there should be a Search Committee at all," he adds, pointing out that the Search Committee's nominations can be vetoed by anothe rSelection Committee headed by the Prime Minister. Justice Thomas retired fromthe Supreme Court in 2002. Last week, noted jurist Fali Nariman
refused the government's invite to be apart of the Search Committee.
The Lokpal is meant to include four former or serving judges. Famous legalexperts have objected to the fact that judges have been asked to apply for theposts. The law that creates the Lokpal was passed by Parliament in December. The needfor an ombudsman empowered to investigate corrupt government officials waschampioned by activists Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal in 2012.
Justice Thomas’s letter sent to the PrimeMinister’s Office is deeply embarrassing for the government. “The news that SriFali Nariman recused himself from associating with the Search Committee waswidely published as he found that "the current selection process wouldoverlook the most competent, the most independent and the mostcourageous".
When I learnt his reaction I wanted to know whether the scopeof the Search Committee has been curtailed by the Rules. That is why Irequested to forward a copy of the Rules to me” Justice Thomas wrote.
“When I went through the Rules I have come torealise that the work of the Search Committee is to pick out names of personsfrom the list provided by the Central Government (Department of Personnel andTraining) The Search Committee cannot make any independent search to find out the most deserving persons to be included in the panel. Once the SearchCommittee gives the panel it is for the Selection Committee to select thepersons for appointment as members of the Lokpal. In doing so the Selection Committee is not bound to take any one from the panel prepared by the Search Committee as could be discerned from the second proviso to Section 4(3) of the Act.” “I wonder why there should be a Search Committee at all, much less, the arduous work to be undertaken by the membersof such a Committee when the Selection Committee itself can decide on whoshould be the members of Lokpal.”
“That apart, the requirement of seekingapplications from persons to be considered as members of Lokpal has already beenwidely criticized. No doubt, it would deter many deserving persons beingbrought within the ambit of consideration” the letter says. “In the above situation, I have reservationsin accepting the Chairmanship of the Search Committee. I do not consider itworthwhile to travel such a long distance (from my hometown Kottayam in Keralafar upto New Delhi) and spend many days to make a panel from the list forwardedby the Department of Personnel and Training of the Central Government”, Justice Thomas says. What he, and Fali Nariman, are implying isthat the government would in all circumstances, appoint a Lok Pal it would consider suitable, not necessarily the best person for the job. They argue this would defeat the purpose for which a Lok Pal is sought to be appointed."