Ahmedabad: In a major setback for the Narendra Modi government, the High Court on Wednesday upheld the appointment of Justice (retired) RA Mehta as the state Lokayukta, turning down the state government's argument that it was unconstitutional.
On August 27, 2011, the Modi government moved the High Court challenging Governor Beniwal's decision to appoint Mehta as the Lokayukta. The state government and the BJP argued the Governor's move was unconstitutional as she had appointed Mehta without consulting the Chief Minister and the state Cabinet.
The case was first heard by a two-judge bench of Justice Akil Abdul Hamid Kureshi and Justice Sonia Gokani, which delivered a split verdict on October 11, 2011, While Justice Kureshi opined that the appointment of Mehta by the Governor was constitutional, Justice Sonia Gokani differed.
The case was then assigned to Justice VM Sahai of the High Court, who delivered his verdict on Wednesday.
"I could not agree with Justice Sonia Gokani of the division bench on the points of difference, which were referred to me. I concur with the views of my brother judge Akil Kureshi. Hence, the government petition is dismissed," Justice Sahai said.
Following Justice Sahai's decision, the matter will now go to High Court Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya, who will then refer it to the division bench.
The division bench will then give a formal order, after incorporating Justice Sahai's views. The Gujarat government can then appeal in the Supreme Court.
The verdict has been welcomed by the civil rights group and the Congress, which had accused the Modi government of playing politics on the Lokayukta’s appointment.
"The judgement of the third judge is historical. For the first time in India the Lokayukta has been appointed directly by the Governor. Gujarat needed a very strong and honest Lokayukta. All the cases pending against the Gujarat government should be handed over to the Lokayukta, his appointment is now constitutional and legal." said lawyer Mukul Sinha.
Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee president Arjun Modhwadia welcomed the judgement, calling it a forum where complaints against the Modi government could be heard.
"We welcome the judgement. Now Gujarat will have a forum to complain against the Gujarat government and the ministers here," said Modhwadia.
Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi accused the BJP of not being serious about tackling corruption.
"The High Court verdict shows the double face of the BJP. This shows that the BJP is not serious about a strong Lokpal. This shows the real face of the BJP. The appointment of the Gujarat Lokayukta was correct. The BJP does not allow the appointment of Lokayuktas in their states and talks of strong Lokpal in the Centre, and do not let the Lokpal bill pass in Parliament," said Alvi.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said, "We welcome the Gujarat High Court decision on Lokayukta."
Gujarat Governor Kamla Beniwal had appointed Mehta as the Lokayukta, a post lying vacant since November 2003, on August 26, 2011 leading to confrontation with the Modi government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Modi and the BJP had accused the Governor of acting in a partisan manner and trying to destabilise the state government.
Justice (retired) Mehta declined to comment on the verdict saying he had not appeared in the case.
"I am totally indifferent (to the verdict). I have not appeared in the case. I have really nothing to say. The Lokayukta office is not a political office," he said.
The appointment of the Lokayukta had become as political battle in the state with
Modi even demanding in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the Governor should be recalled. A BJP delegation led by veteran leader Lal Krishna Advani on September 3, 2011 submitted a memo to President Pratibha Patil demanding the recall of the Governor.