Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gujarat High Court uphelds appointment of Lokayukta (Ombudsman)

Justice Sahai - Jolt to Modi

Gujarat High Court has gifted Congress party  the best judgement it could have imagined before the elections. Third judgeof the bench upholds governor’s decision to appoint retired Justice RA Mehta as Lokayukta (ombudsman). In October last year, a division bench had given a split verdict, which was subsequently referred to justice Sahai for adjudication who on Wednesday delivered his verdict. After this verdict mandate is against Modi government by a 2:1 bench.

The post of Lokayukta has been lying vacant since Justice SM Soni completed his term in 2003. There has been a tug of war between the BJP government and the governor, who is appointed by the central government.

R.A. Mehta 
In August last year, the governor Kamla Beniwal appointed Justice (retired) R.A. Mehta as Lokayukta ignoring the objections of the state council of ministers. She issued the orders based on Gujarat State Lokayukta Act, 1986, which says : “The Governor shall appoint the Lokayukta in the state in consultation with Chief Justice of the High Court and Leader of the opposition in the state assembly.” The governor had made the appointment after chief justice SJ Mukhopadhya (now in the Supreme Court) had recommended justice Mehta's name.

The BJP government is opposed to Mehta for his anti Modi statements in public. He is believed to be the advisors to forums pitting various cases against the state government. “There is an intense, almost universal sentiment of fear and growing despair among Muslim citizens of Gujarat”, Mehta had said in 2002.
Immediately after the appointment, the state government had moved the high court. The case was first heard by a two-judge bench of Justice Akil Abdul Hamid Kureshi and Justice Sonia Gokani, which delivered a split verdict on October 11, 2011, While Justice Kureshi opined that the appointment of Mehta by the Governor was constitutional, Justice Sonia Gokani differed. Sonia Gokani had set it aside on the grounds that it was "unconstitutional" because the governor could act only on the advice of the council of ministers. The case was then assigned to Justice VM Sahai of the High Court, who delivered his verdict on Wednesday.
 The state government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas said, “We accept the verdict of the high court. But our points remain and we will challenge this decision in the Supreme Court. We are not against the institution of Lokayukta but against the manner in which Justice Mehta was appointed keeping the council of ministers in the dark.”
The central leadership of BJP  wants to take this as an opportunity to raise the issues which can affect other states ruled by the BJP and its coalition partners. BJP MP and constitutional lawyer Ravi Shankar Prasad said the matter must be finally decided by the Supreme Court as the judgment erroneously interprets the power of governor under Article 163 (2)''. "A chief minister is an important component in decision making process by a governor, he can't be ignored", Prasad said and added "it is an attack on the federalism''.
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