Gujarat Lokayukta’s appointment upheld by high court (Third lead)

January 18th, 2012 - 6:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Narendra Modi Ahmedabad, Jan 18 (IANS) In a setback for Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the Gujarat High Court Wednesday upheld Justice (retired) R.A. Mehta’s appointment as Lokayukta by Governor Kamla Beniwal. But the state government said it would challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court.

Gujarat government’s standing counsel in Supreme Court, Hemantika Wahi, told reporters in Delhi that a petition challenging the high court’s order would be filed Thursday morning and mentioned in the apex court later the same day.

The petitioners in the case termed the high court judgment here as historic and said the government’s arguments that the governor’s move to appoint the Lokayukta was arbitrary has been rejected.

“The Lokayukta’s appointment in the state is constitutional, valid and legal and the government’s arguments that the governor’s move to appoint the Lokayukta was arbitrary has been rejected,” petitioner Anand Yagnik said.

Mehta, a former high court judge, told news channels that he would abide by his responsibilities as and when they were assigned to him.

A two-judge bench had last October delivered a split verdict on the government’s plea questioning Mehta’s appointment.

While Justice Akil Kureshi had upheld the appointment, Justice Sonia Gokani disagreed. The case went to a third judge, Justice V.N. Sahai, who completed the hearing Dec 29, 2011 and announced the verdict Wednesday.

“There was a difference of opinion in the two-judge bench and today the verdict of the third judge came and he said he agrees with the view of Justice Kureshi,” Yagnik said.

The Gujarat government said it would approach the Supreme Court.

“The way forward is to study the judgment and after having the competent legal advice we shall challenge it before the honourable apex court of this country,” Gujarat government spokesperson Jay Narayan Vyas told reporters.

“We will move to the Supreme Court for further remedy because we believe that the issue raised by us is fundamental to the safety of the federal structure and also very central to provisions of the Constitution of India,” he said.

“This is an issue which touches constitutional provisions and if governors are permitted to work outside the ambit of the constitution then you can’t work in this country because you are having a federal structure,” said Vyas.

Mukul Sinha, another petitioner, called it a triumph of the rule of law in the country. “We hope that in Gujarat also we will have an independent Lokayukta which can work to remove corruption in the state.”

Sinha said Mehta can take oath of Lokayukta any time as his appointment has not been stayed by the court.

Justice Mehta said he will abide by his responsibilities. “I will abide by my responsibilities as and when they are assigned,” he said.

Mehta was appointed Lokayukta Aug 26, 2011. For seven years prior to that, the state did not have an ombudsman. But the Modi government had questioned Mehta’s appointment on the ground that the governor did not consult it on the matter.

Reacting to the judgment, the Congress said it has been proven that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — which is in power in Gujarat — is not firm in removing corruption from the country.

“In the last several years they have been delaying the appointment of the Lokayukta and in parliament they did not let the Lokpal bill pass and their true face has been unveiled,” Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said in New Delhi.

Union minister and senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal asked the Gujarat government to accept the verdict with respect.

BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: “The Gujarat government will take necessary action in the matter after reading the court order.”

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