The anti-corruption Lokpal should be set up without delay and the lack of a Leader of Opposition should not hold up the process anymore, the Supreme Court told the government today. This means, the government can select an ombudsman without taking the Congress, the main opposition group, on board.
"Set up a Lokpal without the involvement of a Leader of Opposition. There is no reason to delay the appointment of a Lokpal due to the non-availability of a Leader of Opposition," the court said, acting on a petition that says the process has been delayed for three years.
The law to set up a Lokpal was passed in parliament in 2013 - after a massively popular campaign led by activist Anna Hazare that included Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan - and was enacted a year later.
Since then, there has been no movement.
Last month, the government told the court that the Lokpal cannot be appointed for now as there is no Leader of Opposition in the selection panel and a change in law that would allow the Congress - as largest opposition group - to be a member has yet to be approved in parliament.
In 2014, the BJP came to power, decimating the Congress after two terms. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said the leader of opposition's place in the Lokpal selection committee would stay vacant as there was none. The Congress with 44 seats fell far short of what it needed to qualify for Leader of Opposition; a party needs to win at least 10 per cent of seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha.
Amid criticism and prodding from the Supreme Court, the government later made a concession and decided to include the largest opposition party in selection panels not just for the Lokpal but also for CBI chief.
Other members of the Lokpal selection panel are the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court judge, and an eminent jurist.