What should the composition of the collegium be for the selection of the Lok Pal?
The effective functioning of the Lok Pal depends on the expertise, experience and the calibre of people populating it. This being said, it becomes critical that the right persons are selected for this role as they will not only help set standards of functioning but their decisions will become precedents that will be quoted in the future. Selection thus becomes a major and critical role in ensuring that this institution delivers on its mandate.
The Lok Pal bill of the Government talks of the chairperson and members being appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal, after obtaining the recommendations of a committee consisting of:
- The Vice President of India (Chairperson)
- The Prime Minister
- The Speaker of the House of People
- The Minister-in-charge of Home Affairs in the Government of India
- The Minister-in-charge of Law and Justice in the Government of India
- The Leader of the house other than the one in which the Prime Minister is a member
- The Leader of the Opposition in the House of People
- The Leader of the Opposition in the Council of States
The Government selection committee is purely a political one and there is the danger of the wrong people or politician-dominated Lok Pal being created. The Jan Lok Pal Bill kept the politicians and bureaucrats completely out of the process and earlier stipulated a selection committee which was chaired by the Vice-President of India with other members being the Speaker, from the Judiciary, the armed forces, NHRC, CAG, CEC; and after the first set of selection process, the outgoing members and Chairperson of Lok Pal. After a series of consultations with the civil society activists, this has now undergone a change to look at a tiered selection process. The selection committee will now appoint a 5-member search committee of eminent jurists and constitutional heads within the Government, who will then co-opt 5 more members from around the country and these could be jurists, academicians, activists and people of repute known for their fairness and integrity. This 10-member search committee will then recommend to the selection committee three times the total number of members required for the Lok Pal from which the Lok Pal Chairperson and members will be selected. While critics may argue that this is a very cumbersome and long-drawn process and there is no precedence for such a selection for any post today in the Government, one must understand that the entire process of making this law is itself unprecedented. The selection committee will continue to be headed by the Vice-President but will now include the political executive (considering parliamentary accountability in mind) and the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition will be members along with others drawn from the Judiciary and Constitutional bodies.
There are also arguments that the selection and search committees must be inclusive enough to represent the geographical, gender, caste and class diversity of India. This is a fair demand and one should bear in mind that India is multiple countries within a country and as much inclusivity as practically possible must be thought of while drafting the bill.
In the case of the Lok Ayukta and Upa Lok Ayuktas of Karnataka, they are appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief minister in consultation with the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, the Chairman of the Karnataka Legislative Council, the Speaker, and the Leaders of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly and Council. One must realize that the Chief Minister does this only in ‘consultation’ and the final choice is usually his and reflects the thinking and intent of the ruling party in power.
The 2nd ARC is again focused on a political committee and talks of a 5-member selection committee chaired by the Vice President of India and has the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India. The CVC would be ex-officio member of this committee.
My own view is that the selection process has a huge impact on the quality of the Lok Pal and its functioning and is something that needs a great deal of deliberation. Though a large body and a tiered process sounds complex and unwieldy, one needs to understand that this experiment would be successful only when the ingredients that go into it are of the highest order. Otherwise, a powerful law would by itself be meaningless and fall short of its intended outcome.
(to be continued…)