SC questions government on lack of opposition leader

New Delhi : The Supreme Court Friday questioned the central government over the issue of appointing a leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, and said it will give a larger interpretation to the concept of the opposition leader if the government failed to resolve the issue.

Days after Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan ruled that the Congress won’t get the status of the opposition, Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman underlined the importance of the post.

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The leader of opposition conveys the voice of the people different from that of the government, said the court, raising questions regarding the absence of a recognized opposition leader in the lower house of parliament.

Mahajan announced that the Congress won’t be recognized as the main opposition party as it won only 44 seats, less than 10 percent of the 543 members who get elected.

The judges said they will examine the provision in the Lokpal law that mandates the presence of the leader of the opposition in the selection committee as there is no recognized opposition leader in the Lok Sabha.

The court said the leader of the opposition was an important component in the functioning of parliament.

After the apex court’s ruling, the Congress party reiterated its demand that it should be recognised as the principal opposition party in the Lok Sabha.

“The Supreme Court has taken an important step. The government should reconsider its stand and ask the Lok Sabha speaker to relook into it,” said party leader Manish Tewari.

The government, however, maintained that the Congress did not qualify for the post.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said: “As per the constitution, a party must get 10 percent seats (for leader of opposition status).

“But unfortunately it did not happen. So, they should accept it,” he said.

BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi added that this was not the first time the position of the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha is unoccupied.

“This is the 8th time… It has happened seven times before,” she said.A

The apex court meanwhile said the leader of the opposition was of consequence not just in the context of the selection of Lokpal but also vis-a-vis the National Human Rights Commission and the Central Vigilance Commission.

The court asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatagi to clarify two points: how the government wishes to make the Lokpal Act workable and, two, how to move forward if there is no recognized opposition leader.

Chief Justice Lodha said that if government failed to resolve the issue, the court may give a larger interpretation to the term so that it may include the leader of the largest party in the opposition.

The court said this in the course of hearing a PIL by NGO Common Cause, which has challenged the search committee procedure for Lokpal.

Under the existing provision, anyone desirous of being selected as chairman or a member of Lokpal has to make an application to the department of personnel and training. It is this procedure that has come under fire from sections of people and activists.