New Delhi: The absence of recognised Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Lok Sabha will not invalidate appointments in various statutory bodies including Lokpal and CVC among others, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi has said.
The Attorney General (AG), in his opinion to Lok Sabha on the issue of LoP, has also said that the power to recognise a Parliamentary Party or group for functioning in the House is solely that of the Speaker.
The LoP is a member of selection committees to choose the chief and members of Lokpal, Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Central Information Commission (CIC) and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
The AG's opinion was sought by the Lok Sabha secretariat after UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan seeking LoP post for Congress nominee.
All the four Acts -- the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, the CVC Act, 2003, RTI Act, 2005 and the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 -- provide that the selection "shall not be rendered invalid under any of the Acts merely on account of a vacancy of any member in the committees," the AG said.
It is clear that in at least two of the four Acts (CVC and RTI), Parliament has clearly stated its intention i.E. that there may be a situation where no LoP is recognised in Lok Sabha by the Speaker.
"As far as the other two Acts are concerned, it is obvious that the vacancy in the selection committee regarding Leader of Opposition, who will not be present in the committee because of lack of appointment as such, will be treated as a casual vacancy i.E. Akin to a member of the selection committee not being able to attend the meeting," Rohatgi has said in the letter copy of which was received in response to an RTI query filed by PTI.
The four Acts have nothing to do with the actual recognition of a member of the House as Leader of Opposition which recognition vests solely in the discretion of the Speaker, the AG has said.
After the formation of NDA government at the Centre,Gandhi had written to the Lok Sabha Speaker.
"We would like to request Speaker to recognise and declare the leader of Congress party in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjuna Kharge, as the Leader of the Opposition and to further request that all consequential steps in that regard to be taken," Gandhi had said in July 7 letter.
She had cited various provisions of the law while seeking LoP status for Congress in the letter signed by 60 Lok Sabha members belonging to United Progressive Alliance (UPA) including those from Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM).
The Lok Sabha secretariat had sought the AG's view on the issue of the LoP.
The AG replied to the secretariat through his letter dated July 23.
To specific queries whether under the relevant provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, the CVC Act, 2003, RTI Act, 2005 and the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, a vacancy in selection committee (including that of LoP) would not invalidate appointments to statutory authorities, contemplate situations where a Leader of Opposition may not necessarily exist, the AG said "yes".
The copy of the letters of Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha Speaker and the Attorney general were received in response to the RTI query.
Taking into consideration, the Lok Sabha Speaker had declined LoP status to Congress.
"After consideration of applicable provisions of relevant statutes, Directions by the Speaker Lok Sabha (Directions 120 and 121) and several past precedents repeatedly followed for the last nearly 60 years which have been based upon decisions taken by many eminent Speakers in the past, it has not been found possible to accede to your request," the Speaker said in her August 14 letter to Sonia Gandhi.
Congress with 44 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha has emerged as the second largest party after BJP's 282 but fell short by 11 to stake claim for the LoP for which it requires a strength of 55.
The government is still deliberating on the issue of LoP as many posts including that of Central Vigilance Commissioner and Chief Information Commissioner among others are vacant.
The Union Cabinet had on November 10 deferred a proposal moved by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which acts as the nodal authority for processing appointments to various bodies like Lokpal, CVC, CIC, among others, to amend the Lokpal Act seeking to include leader of single largest party in Lok Sabha in place of LoP in the selection panel to choose next CBI Director. The tenure of CBI Director Ranjit Sinha ends on December 2.