In a major loss of face for Narendra Modi, the Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed allegations against former Gujarat high court judge RA Mehta and upheld his appointment as the Lokayukta of Gujarat by governor Kamla Beniwal.
Gujarat has not had this mandatory corruption redressal authority for years now. This development will make things difficult for the Modi government, which has had a tough time fighting multiple corruption charges by the Congress, the CAG and civil society groups over land allocation to industries and implementation of government schemes, among others.
While upholding the appointment and quashing the Gujarat government’s objections about Mehta’s alleged anti-government leanings, the apex court has made several pointed observations about the interpretation of the Constitution regarding the appointment.
A bench of justices BS Chauhan and Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla held that the governor has to act under the advice of the cabinet of ministers, but
in this case, the appointment is not illegal as the primacy of the chief justice is upheld over adverse view of the chief minister against Mehta.
Since the post of Lokayukta was lying vacant for years, the governor appointed Mehta as the Lokayukta in August 2011 after a long consultation process between the state government and leader of opposition during which a consensus could not be reached.
The SC shot down the Gujarat government’s contentions against Mehta’s appointment, based on the grounds of his involvement in an NGO or a social action group.
The court said that being a panelist in deliberations over the plight of minorities in Gujarat could not be a ground for declaring an awakened qualified person from holding the statutory post of the Lokayukta.
“If a vigilant citizen draws the attention of the state or a statutory authority to the apprehensions of the minority community in that state, then the same would not amount to a biased attitude of such citizen towards the tate,” the court held.
The Modi government had challenged a fractured judgment by a three-judge bench of the Gujarat high court, which too had upheld the governor’s appointment. Rejecting the Modi government’s allegation that Mehta was ‘biased’, the apex court said the CJ had dealt with it appropriately and there’s little need to examine it now.
The SC bench, however, criticised the governor for claiming she was “not bound by the aid and advice of the council of ministers, and that she had the exclusive right to appoint the Lokayukta, is most certainly not in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution”.
“It seems that this was an outcome of an improper legal advice and the opinion expressed is not in conformity with the Rule of Law. The view of the governor was unwarranted and logically insupportable,” the bench added.
While the Modi government had recommended a panel including JR Vora for the post, the governor proposed Mehta’s name for the Lokayukta. Modi objected to it and wrote a letter to the chief justice of the state citing Mehta’s alleged anti-government stance.
Stressing that the office of the Lokayukta is a must for corruption free governance, the apex court also warned against the appointment of a ‘pliant’ person to adorn this seat.
The judges said corruption in a civilised society is “a disease like cancer, which if not detected in time, is sure to spread its malignance among the polity of the country, leading to disastrous consequences”.