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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Kerala govt decides to bring Ordinance to clip Lokayukta powers

Opposition Leader V D Satheesan urged the Governor to refrain from giving assent to the Lokayukta Ordinance, which is intended to destroy the very institution.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: January 26, 2022 11:07:33 am
In July 2011, as the then UPA government engaged with activist Anna Hazare on drafting of a Lokpal Bill, the CPI(M) came out with its stand on the issue in detail. (File)

In a move that has drawn criticism from the Opposition, the CPI(M)-led Kerala government has decided to bring an Ordinance to amend the Kerala Lokayukta Act in a manner that gives it powers to reject the report of the anti-corruption ombudsman.

Last week, the state cabinet, in a meeting attended online by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan from the US, recommended to the Governor to issue the Ordinance to amend Kerala Lokayukta Act 1999. The amendment is aimed at giving powers to the government to “either accept or reject the verdict of the Lokayukta, after giving an opportunity of being heard”.

According to the proposed amendment, the Lokayukta would have only powers to make recommendations or send reports to the government, effectively reducing its powers to advisory in nature.

In the previous LDF regime, Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel was forced to step down after the Lokayukta found that he had abused his office. Jaleel had faced a case pertaining to illegal appointment of his relative in the state minorities development corporation.

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The government’s move comes at a time when complaints are pending before Lokayukta against Chief Minister Vijayan and Higher Education Minister R Bindu. The complaint against Vijayan pertains to alleged anomalies in distribution of financial aid from the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund.

Bindu faces a complaint made by senior Congress MLA and former Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala to the Lokayukta in which he accused her of illegal interference in the re-appointment of the VC of Kannur University.

Justifying the latest move of the government, state Law Minister P Rajeev told reporters on Tuesday that the Ordinance to bring in amendment to the Lokayukta Act was as per the advice of the Advocate General.

“The existing Act denies natural justice as there is no provision for even an appeal. There have been two High Court verdicts which said Lokayukta has only recommendatory jurisdiction and not mandatory one. There was legal advice that Section 14 of the Lokayukta Act is against Articles of 163 and 164 of the Constitution. The Lokayukta infringes upon the rights of a Cabinet,’’ he said.

Rajeev said the proposed amendment has nothing to do with pending complaints against the Chief Minister and Higher Education Minister.

Chennithala said the government should reveal the urgency behind the Ordinance to dilute the Lokayukta’s powers. “The CPI(M) has been always demanding to strengthen the Lokpal system to fight corruption. However, party politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan has taken the decision to clip the wings of the anti-corruption body. The government move to rob the powers of the Lokayukta is unprecedented, he said.

He said the government fears it would face adverse verdicts from the Lokayukta in the complaints against Vijayan and Bindu.

Opposition Leader V D Satheesan urged the Governor to refrain from giving assent to the Lokayukta Ordinance, which is intended to destroy the very institution.

In a letter to the Governor, he said the proposed Ordinance will curtail the powers of the Lokayukta to mere advisory in nature. This is against the very essence of the Lokayukta, which was set up as an establishment to curb corruption and mismanagement. Its role in preventing corruption and resolving common man’s grievances is significant, he wrote. That is the main reason why Lokayukta has been given the authority to direct corrupt public officials to quit office.

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