Justice Khanwilkar is the new Lokpal chairperson, seven other members also appointed

The President of India has appointed former Supreme Court Justice A.M. Khanwilkar as chairperson of the Lokpal. Four judicial members and three non-judicial members of the Lokpal have also been appointed.

ON Tuesday, former Supreme Court judge Ajay Manikrao Khanwilkar was appointed as chairperson of the Lokpal. Justice Khanwilkar retired from the Supreme Court on July 29, 2022.

The office of the chairperson has been lying vacant since May 27, 2022, when the then-incumbent Justice P.C. Ghose completed his tenure. The President of India has also appointed four judicial members and three non-judicial members of the Lokpal.

Former Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court Lingappa Narayana Swamy, former Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court Sanjay Yadav and former Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court Ritu Raj Awasti have been appointed judicial members of the Lokpal.

Justice Awasti currently heads the Law Commission of India which recommended retaining the offence of sedition.

Former Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra, former chief secretary of Gujarat Pankaj Kumar and former secretary to the government of India Ajay Tirkey were appointed as non-judicial members of the Lokpal.

As per Section 4 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, the chairperson and members of Lokpal are appointed by the President of India after obtaining the recommendations of a selection committee consisting of: (a) the Prime minister as chairperson; (b) the speaker of the House of the People as member; (c) the Leader of Opposition in the House of the People as member; (d) the Chief Justice of India or a judge of the Supreme Court nominated by him as member; (e) One eminent jurist, as recommended by the chairperson and members referred in clauses (a) to (d), to be nominated by the President of India, as member.

The Lokpal Act provides that out of a maximum of eight members, half will be from the judiciary.

A minimum 50 percent of the members have to be from Scheduled Caste and Tribe communities, Other Backward Classes, minorities and women.

The judicial member of the Lokpal should be either a former or sitting judge of the Supreme Court or a former sitting chief justice of a high court.

The non-judicial member should be an eminent person with impeccable integrity and outstanding ability, having special knowledge and expertise of a minimum of 25 years in matters relating to anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance and finance, including in insurance and banking, law and management.

As a Supreme Court judge, Justice Khanwilkar authored a decision upholding the various contentious provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act,2002, thereby widening the power of the Directorate of Enforcement (ED).

Justice Khanwilkar also authored a judgment upholding a clean chit given by a special investigation team (SIT) to the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi for the Gujarat riots.

In the same judgment, the Justice Khanwilkar-led Bench had sought action against social activist Teesta Setalvad, accusing her of keeping the pot boiling for ulterior design. This was followed by an immediate first information report (FIR) against Setalvad and her arrest.

Justice Khanwilkar also authored a majority judgment rejecting the petitions challenging the Union government’s Central Vista Project.

He upheld the amendments in 2020 to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010, which introduced restrictions on the inflow of foreign funds into India.

The Bench headed by Justice Khanwilkar had observed that “receiving foreign donations cannot be an absolute or even a vested right”.

He also authored a majority decision refusing an SIT probe into the Bhima Koregaon violence case.

Powers of the Lokpal

The inquiry wing of the Lokpal has been vested with the powers of a civil court. The other powers of the Lokpal include:

  • The power to authorise the CBI for search and seizure.
  • The power to recommend the transfer or suspension of public servants involved in allegations of corruption.
  • The power to confiscate assets, proceeds, receipts and benefits arising out of or procured by means of corruption in special circumstances.
  • The power to give directions to prevent the destruction of records during a preliminary inquiry.
  • The power of superintendence over and to give direction to the CBI.
  • If it has referred a case to the CBI, the investigating officer in such case cannot be transferred without the approval of the Lokpal.
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