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Karnataka: New Lokayukta named, plea on eligibility, by petitioner H M Farooq

Karnataka’s Congress government has chosen Justice S R Nayak, a former chief justice of the Chhattisgarh high court, to be the state’s new Lokayukta despite a plea in the Supreme Court questioning his eligibility. The apex court is scheduled to hear a special leave petition over Justice Nayak’s eligibility on March 11 2016.

In a plea, petitioner H M Farooq had claimed that Justice Nayak was ineligible for any government posting after having served as the chairperson of the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission between 2007 and 2012. He had added that Section 24(3) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 barred the chairperson of the commission from employment by any government. Section 24(3) of Act states: “On ceasing to hold office, a Chairperson or a Member shall be ineligible for further employment under the Government of a State or under the Government of India.’’

But even with a petition pending before the court, the state government recommended Justice Nayak’s name to Governor Vajubhai Vala for appointment. Defending the decision, CM Siddaramaiah said that he picked Justice Nayak, who is known to be his friend, as the new Lokayukta since he preferred someone who knew Kannada over an outsider to be the state’s new anti-corruption ombudsman.

Earlier, former SC and Karnataka high court chief justice Vikramajit Sen, who initially gave his consent for the post, withdrew his candidature in January claiming that he had gathered that CM Siddaramaiah was not in favour of appointing him. Interestingly, at last month’s meeting to recommend a name for the post, Leader of Opposition Jagadish Shettar (BJP), Karnataka Chief Justice S K Mukherjee and the chairman of the Legislative Council had curiously backed Justice Sen despite his withdrawal of consent. At the same meeting, the CM and the Assembly Speaker opted for Justice S R Nayak. The recommendation for Justice S R Nayak’s appointment now lies with the Governor. In the meantime, the state government’s decision will also be tested legally in the apex court.

The petitioner in the case had initially filed a PIL before the Karnataka HC against a July 26, 2014 order of the Siddaramaiah government to appoint Justice Nayak as the Karnataka Law Commission chairman. In January 2015, the high court dismissed the PIL after the state government argued that the post of Law Commission chairman was autonomous. The case was then taken to the SC in the form of an SLP by the litigant.

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