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Kerala government’s move to dilute Lokayukta’s powers raises questions, goes against CPM postures on public corruption

🔴 The Kerala government needs to recall the Lokayukta ordinance. Failing to do so could be viewed as a compromise on the part of the Left towards strengthening institutional checks against public corruption.

By: Editorial |
Updated: January 28, 2022 9:13:07 am
The Opposition has spoken out against the proposed amendment.

The CPM-led Kerala government’s decision to bring an ordinance to limit the powers of the anti-corruption watchdog is questionable. By turning the quasi-judicial institution into a toothless advisory body, whose orders will no longer be binding on the government, the ordinance, which is awaiting the governor’s assent, will effectively neutralise the Lokayukta Act, touted as a model legislation.

The Opposition has spoken out against the proposed amendment and alleged that it is aimed at containing the political fallout in the event of the Lokayukta passing adverse orders on complaints against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Higher Education Minister R Bindu. Ahead of the assembly elections in March last year, the then higher education minister, KT Jaleel, was forced to resign following a ruling by the Lokayukta: In a case pertaining to an allegedly illegal appointment of a relative of the minister in the state minorities corporation, it had held that Jaleel’s conduct was unbecoming of a minister. Bindu has been in a spot ever since Governor Arif Mohammad Khan publicly spoke about her writing to him in connection with the reappointment of a vice-chancellor. A complaint has been filed against Bindu before the Lokayukta in the VC appointment case. The government has refuted the Opposition’s charge that the ordinance has been drafted to protect the ministers and has claimed that the proposed changes are in line with two high court rulings. But its defence appears unpersuasive. Its attempts to whittle down the powers of the Lokayukta also fly against the CPM’s own stated position that a strong Lokpal at the Centre and empowered Lokayuktas in the states are necessary to check public corruption. In a 2011 statement, the party had said that the “battle against corruption, in order to be effective today, can be achieved only through a comprehensive reform of our political, legal, administrative and judicial systems and not through one-off or piece-meal measures. The establishment of an effective Lokpal institution is one such measure.” It also argued that Lokayuktas should be set up in the states “on the lines of the Lokpal” with “all state government employees, local bodies and the state corporations under their purview”. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury reiterated this position several times in Parliament.

The Kerala government needs to recall the Lokayukta ordinance. Failing to do so could be viewed as a compromise on the part of the Left towards strengthening institutional checks against public corruption.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on January 28, 2022 under the title ‘Weakening the watchdog’.

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