In an unprecedented move that will surely bring her on a collision course with the state government, Gujarat Governor Dr Kamla Beniwal, using her special powers, has appointed retired judge of Gujarat high court Justice RA Mehta as the Lokayukta of the state.
The governor has bypassed the Narendra Modi-led state government while making the appointment. The state government has been sitting on the file regarding the appointment of a state Lokayukta; the post has been vacant since 2004.
Gujarat Leader of Opposition Shaktisinh Gohil told media personnel that the governor had to use her special powers to issue the notification appointing Justice Mehta as the Lokayukta because the state government had failed to do so. He added that the chief justice of the Gujarat high court had recommended Justice Mehta's name for the post four months ago.
A delegation of Congress members of the legislative assembly, led by Gohil, met the governor on Friday. Dr Beniwal informed Opposition party members about the Raj Bhavan's move to "exercise special powers".
Stunned by the governor's unprecedented move, state government spokespersons and officials have refused to offer any reactions.
Some officials opined that the government may explore legal options, including approaching the court to legally challenge Dr Beniwal's move.
As per the Gujarat state Lokayukta Act, 1986, the state Lokayukta is appointed by the governor after consultations with the chief justice and leader of Opposition in the state assembly.
But the Modi government has stressed that the process of appointing the Lokayukta should be initiated by the state government, which will seek a shortlist of names from the chief justice and select a name from it.
The post of the Lokayukta in Gujarat has been vacant since 2004 after the term of Justice SM Soni, who last held the post, expired.
Over the last few months, Opposition parties and civil society organisations have been demanding that a Lokayukta should be appointed to examine the complaints of wrongdoing and corruption against state government ministers and others.
On Thursday, Bharatiya Janata Party member of the legislative assembly Dr Kanubhai Kalsaria, who successfully spearheaded a public movement against Nirma Cement's plant near Mahuva, threatened to go on a fast unto death if a Lokayukta was not appointed.
Last year, the Modi government had given a written undertaking in the high court, stating that the process of appointing a Lokayukta was underway.
Recently, Bhikhabhai Jethva, father of slain RTI activist Amit Jethva, had moved the court, seeking a direction for making the requisite appointment.
The court has already issued a notice to the state government and posted the matter for further hearing on August 29.
Meanwhile, giving in to public pressure, the Modi government had recently appointed a judicial commission under the Commission of Inquiry Act to probe the Opposition's allegations of irregularities, wrongdoing and favours to certain industrial houses like Adani, the Tata Group, L&T and Essar.
Justice MB Shah, a former judge of the Supreme Court, was named as the head of the judicial commission. He has still not decided whether to take up the assignment, saying he was in "double mind" about the appointment.