Ahmedabad, 7 Aug (PTI): In a new twist to the controversy over R A Mehta’s appointment as Gujarat Lokayukta, the retired High Court judge today declined to assume office, citing state government’s long and expensive legal battle against his appointment as one of the reasons.
Justice Mehta, in a letter to Governor Kamla Beniwal and Chief Justice of the High Court, has cited seven reasons which “confirmed his belief that he could not persuade himself to accept the office of Lokayukta”.
“I humbly withdraw my consent for the appointment as the Gujarat Lokayukta and decline to assume the office. Kindly accept my request and relieve me,” Mehta said.
“I frankly admit that I will not be able to fulfill the public duty, public need and high public expectation from the Lokayukta in the circumstances.
“How can I take the responsibility and become the Lokayukta when my objectivity and credibility are not accepted by the government and by the public functionaries whose conduct the Lokayukta may have to investigate? Findings and recommendations – for or against a public functionary- will always be under question mark,” Mehta said.
Indirectly blaming the Narendra Modi government for his decision, Mehta said that the consistent legal battle by challenging his appointment as anti-corruption watchdog was the reason for declining the post.
“Persistently and tenaciously approaching the Supreme Court (SLP, Review Petition, and Curative Petition) at huge public expense. It may be compared to the budget for the Lokayukta office or even of the High Court (which deals with lakhs of cases every year). It would be an eye-opener,” he wrote.
By-passing the Modi government, the Governor had appointed Mehta as Lokayukta on August 25, 2011. This was followed a legal battle which lasted almost two years as state government sought to overturn his appointment and contested it till the last remedy of a curative petition in the Supreme Court was rejected.
Gujarat has not had a Lokayukta since December 2003.
Mehta has also cited Gujarat government’s “reluctance” to notify his appointment in the state gazette even after its three petitions were rejected by the apex court.
“Even after three judgements of the Supreme Court, the reluctance of the State Government to notify the Lokayukta appointment in the official Gujarat Government gazette is surprising, but not unexpected,” he wrote.
Mehta lamented the way the state government invited him to take charge of Lokayukta office after the Supreme Court judgment on its curative petition was rejected.
“The letter of the Gujarat government dated July 26, 2013 (delivered at my Ahmedabad residence while I was in USA) does not indicate any invitation or interest by the government. As if the government has no interest or role in the matter…no invitation and no notification by the government!,” he said in the letter.
Referring to the controversy surrounding his appointment as Lokayukta, he claimed that it has “denigrated the office of Lokayukta. I am averse to any controversy and try to keep away. The present controversy has denigrated the office of the Loltayukta and adversely affected its credibility. The appointment has lost all the grace and dignity.”
In its objection to the selection of Mehta as Lokayukta of the state, the Modi government had termed him as “anti-government” and “biased”.
Hitting out at the government, Mehta says, “The objection alleging anti-government bias (though negatived by the courts), really hurts. Some think that if a person is not pro-government, he is necessarily anti-government. They can’t accept that there is third category, neither pro nor anti, but independent and neutral. Their mindset is clear- their way or no other way.”
He also accused the state government of not maintaining “credibility and dignity’ of the Lokayukta post.
“I humbly believe that the high office of Lokayukta and its occupant are entitled to utmost respect, dignity and grace to enable them to function effectively and perform the great public duty and to carry public credibility of the institution.
“When powerful elements do not care to maintain that effectiveness and credibility, the institution and its occupant suffer in their credibility, effectiveness and utility,” he said.
In his seven-page letter, Mehta has criticised the new Lokayukta Aayog Bill, which was introduced and passed in the state Assembly and is pending before the Governor for assent.
“Maybe there is a lesson for the new Lokpal and Lokayukta Bills to consider whether and to what extent the public functionaries, who are potential subjects of inquiry, should have any voice in the election and appointment,” he said.
“Giving a voice and primacy to such public functionaries to decide, who is to be their investigator, would give an impression that they want it to be their ‘caged parrot’ and the institution of the Lokayukta would lose all credibility and respect of the people and deter many judges from accepting,” he further wrote.
He also complained about state government’s “non-cooperation” in providing enough infrastructure and budgetary support for the Lokayukta office.
“If the Lokayukta has to depend on the reluctant non-cooperative government for all infrastructure, staff, budget etc., and to beg or fight for it, it is not in my nature. In this scenario, the Lokayukta will not able to function effectively and to fulfil the high public expectations,” he said.