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Kharge declines invite to attend Lokpal panel meeting

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Source: Deccan Chronicle

New Delhi: Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge has declined the invitation to attend a meeting of the Lokpal selection committee as a “special invitee”, saying he was doing so to protect the “inviolability” of the Lokpal Act as the “sacred procedure” had been reduced to a “political pretence”.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi written on Wednesday, Kharge said the invitation was an effort to exclude the independent voice of the opposition from the selection process and his presence without “rights of participation, recording of opinion and voting would be a mere eyewash” ostensibly aimed at showcasing participation of opposition in the selection process.

The meeting of the Selection Committee, scheduled for Thursday, is to choose an eminent jurist to the panel.

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“At the outset let me state on behalf of myself, my party and the entire opposition that ‘Special Invitee Invitation’ is a concerted effort to exclude the independent voice of the opposition altogether from the selection process of the most important anti-corruption watchdog. It negates the letter and spirit of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013 in toto.

“A perusal simpliciter of the Lokpal Act 2013, its intent and objective reflect that leader of the opposition cannot be substituted as a special invitee,” Kharge said.

He said it was a matter of surprise that the government was choosing to adopt “this route as a mere paper formality rather than seek any meaningful and constructive participation”.

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Kharge said if the government was indeed serious about ensuring that the Lokpal was appointed with the sanctity it deserves, it should bring an ordinance in shape of the amending Bill and place the same before Parliament as it reopens later this month.

“In these circumstances, I must respectfully decline the invite as special invitee to uphold the inviolability of the Lokpal Act 2013 as the current proceedings have reduced a sacred procedure to a political pretence,” he said.

He said it was the duty of elected representatives to never permit dilution of the provisions of the Lokpal act which was enacted with hopes and aspirations of millions of Indians as the highest body to fight graft and ensure accountability.

Kharge said the government had carried out amendments to Delhi Special Police Establishment Bill, 2014, to substitute the “Leader of Opposition” to “Leader of Single-largest Party+ in the selection committee.

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He said a bill to amend the Lokpal Act on similar lines was brought in December 2014 and the select committee had also put its seal of approval on the amending bill but the government has failed to introduce and pass it.

“This amending bill continues to languish in cold storage for want of appropriate intent, commitment and objectivity on the part of the government.”

He said the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had enacted the Lokpal Act and brought it into force from January 2014 but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, despite its rhetoric to fight corruption, has not appointed a Lokpal for four years.

Kharge said this was not a surprise to anyone familiar with the BJP government’s record in Gujarat “in not establishing and preserving the office of Lokayukta”.

He said the meeting of selection committee had been called to satisfy the Supreme Court order of Februray 23.

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“Conduct of your government only seeks to diminish the spirit and objective of appointment of Lokpal in as much as you seek to deny participation, voice and opinion of the opposition.

“Such myopic actions belie the spirit of nation building more so while constituting an institution like Lokpal. A more apt and statesman-like conduct is expected from the Prime Minister of the country,” he said.

The Centre had informed the Supreme Court last month that a meeting of the Selection Committee is scheduled to take place on March 1 to deliberate on the steps to be taken for the appointment of a Lokpal.

The selection committee includes the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Lok Sabha Speaker.