Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Gujarat HC upholds Lokayukta's appointment

The Gujarat high court on Wednesday upheld the appointment of Lokayukta by the governor and dismissed the plea of the Gujarat government that had challenged it.

In a majority decision, the court concluded that governor Dr Kamla Beniwal was right in appointing retired HC judge RA Mehta as Lokayukta and dismissed the state government's petition challenging the governor's act. The third judge, justice V M Sahai's opinion concurred with justice Akil Kureshi's.

Justice Mehta, however, has not taken charge as Lokayukta of Gujarat since his appointment on August 25 last year.

Immediately after justice Mehta's appointment, the state government moved the HC claiming that the governor had done it without considering the advice of council of ministers and hence it was illegal. The government appealed the warrant of appointment was quashed. Gujarat government objected to justice Mehta's name by claiming that he had proximity with elements that were "anti-Gujarat". Narendra Modi even stated in his letter to CJ that the retired judge was not capable of managing the office of Lokayukta.

After a marathon hearing, a division bench came up with a split verdict with justice Akil Kureshi concluding that the consultation process between the CM and the chief justice was over and the appointment was not illegal, particularly looking at the fact that the post was vacant for more than seven years. Justice Sonia Gokani in the bench had a dissenting view and quashed the appointment.

Following this disagreement, the case was referred to a third judge - justice V M Sahai, who heard the case on points of disagreement between the two judges. The points formulated by the division bench were -
1. Looking at the nature of consultation required for appointment of Lokayukta under Section 3 of the Gujarat Lokayukta Act, in the present case as a matter of fact, whether the consultative process between the Chief Justice and the Chief Minister had come to a close and there was a deadlock between the two dignitaries?

2. Whether the Governor of the State was authorized to act in a manner she did while issuing a notification appointing Justice R.A. Mehta as Lokayukta of the State without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers?

3. What final order? In other words, should the petitions be allowed or should the petitions be dismissed. Further if the petitions are to be allowed, should further direction for appointment of a new Lokayukta within time frame be given to the State Government?

After hearing the case, justice Sahai agreed with justice Kureshi's view and held that the governor's decision was legal. With the third judge's opinion, the government's petition has been dismissed. However, the formal pronouncement may be made by the division bench, as the matter has been referred to the acting chief justice.

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