Changes in law, especially those reformative in intent, are warranted from time to time. However, given the timing and context in which it has taken place, the recent enactment in Gujarat creating a Lokayukta Commission in place of a single-member body is bound to be seen as a colourable exercise of power. The decision to expand it into a multi-member body, consisting of a Lokayukta and two judicial and two administrative members, is ostensibly aimed at strengthening the mechanism to curb corruption among public functionaries. However, the thinly-hidden objective seems to be to ensure that Chief Minister Narendra Modi has his way. He was clearly unhappy with the consultation process involving the Chief Justice on who should be the next Lokayukta. The legislation has come two months after the Supreme Court upheld the appointment of Justice R.A. Mehta for the post, rejecting the Modi government’s challenge to the legality of the Governor making the appointment based on the Chief Justice’s opinion. The new law, which does not dislodge Mr. Mehta, does away with the role of the Chief Justice and Governor in future appointments, and replaces the consultation process with a selection committee headed by the Chief Minister. This has naturally caused concern among opposition parties.
The composition of the six-member selection panel in the Lokayukta Commission Act is loaded in favour of the government. It comprises four members who could be identified with the government of the day: the Chief Minister, a minister appointed by him, the Assembly Speaker and the vigilance commissioner. The other two are the Leader of the Opposition and a judge of the High Court to be nominated by the Chief Justice in consultation with five senior judges of the High Court. Gujarat has argued that its mechanism is similar to what the Centre has proposed in its draft Lokpal Bill. However, the Lokpal Bill talks of including an eminent jurist and a well-known public figure as government nominees. In the Gujarat model, only the opposition leader and the lone judge are independent members. Further, provisions envisaging a jail term for disclosure of identities or evidence in the media and vesting the Council of Ministers with the power to reject Lokayukta reports against ministers or exclude some categories of public functionaries from investigation are truly contentious. The inevitable conclusion is that anti-corruption legislation is still mired in expediency, and the political class is nowhere near adopting the sort of effective and credible mechanism to combat corruption that the people want.