The Narendra Modi government in Gujarat has for now dropped the idea of amending the Lokayukta Act, 1986 to take over the power of deciding the choice for the post.
Earlier, the government was planning to introduce the amendment in the monsoon session of the Assembly beginning on Monday and muscle its way through the 182-member House as the ruling party enjoys a huge majority.
But government sources said the idea was dropped following legal advice that the move might prove counterproductive, instead of helping the government to end the impasse caused by Governor Kamala Beniwal's unilateral appointment of Justice R.A. Mehta, a retired judge of the Gujarat High Court, as the Lokayukta without consulting the government.
The agenda circulated for the two-day session did not include the Lokayukta amendment bill. Leader of the Opposition Shaktisinh Gohil said there was no possibility of the government springing a surprise as there was no time left for giving a three-day notice before the bill could be taken up for discussion.
The government was earlier preparing a draft ordinance for amending the Lokayukta Act to make it obligatory on the Governor's part to appoint the Lokayukta only “in consultation with the Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister.” It was also planning to drop the High Court Chief Justice as the recommendatory authority for the appointment of the Lokayukta.
Work on the ordinance began after the agitation launched by social activist Anna Hazare for a Jan Lokpal Bill and the Governor reminded the government several times of the need for filling the post lying vacant for seven years.
As soon as the Governor got wind of the government's move, she appointed Justice Mehta as the Lokayukta and sent the file to the government for notification.
The government immediately challenged it in the High Court, where the issue is pending.
The government also planned to finalise an amendment bill, on the lines of the ordinance, to pass it through the Assembly. The legal experts, however, advised the government against it, pointing out that since the appointment of Justice Mehta was made under the existing Act, amending it at this stage would not make any difference; on the contrary, it could attract the High Court's wrath as the matter was sub judice.
The three-day ‘Maha Rally,' scheduled to begin on Sunday, against what the BJP sources said the “imposition of the Lokayukta on the State against the government's wishes,” is also expected to be a low-key affair in view of the issue being in court. However, the BJP is going ahead with the preparations for the rally, which is expected to be attended by more than two lakh party workers from all over the State.
Among the five bills, scheduled to be taken up during the monsoon session, are a couple of bills earlier passed by the Assembly but returned by the Governor on technical grounds.
The one is an amendment to the Lokayukta Act, providing for bringing the lower-cadre officials of the local bodies under the purview of the Lokayukta, and the other is meant for regularising unauthorised constructions in major urban centres by charging a fee.