Gujarat Lokayukta controversy hots up

The appointment of Justice R.A. Mehta as the Lokayukt in Gujarat – for seven years the post has been lying vacant – has now become a contentious issue between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat and the main Opposition party in the State, the Congress.

The Congress has been justifying the appointment by Governor Kamla Beniwal quoting chapter and verse from the Gujarat Lokayukt Act 1986 that clearly gives the Governor the power to appoint a Lokayukt, in consultation with the Gujarat High Court Chief Justice and the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly.

The BJP has been saying that the Governor, under Article 163 of the Constitution, “cannot act except on the aid and advice of the State government,” that is, the Cabinet headed by the Chief Minister. Strangely, the BJP has not cited the State Lokayukt Act to justify its opposition to the Governor's action.

On Friday, both Houses of Parliament were disrupted frequently and finally adjourned for the day – similar scenes were witnessed on Tuesday in Parliament before the two-day holiday break. Slogan-shouting BJP MPs protested against Governor for notifying the appointment of the Lokayukt. They also demanded that Ms. Beniwal be recalled.

In the afternoon, senior BJP leaders led by L.K. Advani, including the two Leaders of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, marched to the Rashtrapati Bhawan and submitted a memorandum to President Pratibha Patil asking her to “cancel” the appointment of Justice Mehta. The party has also challenged the Governor's appointment in the Gujarat High Court, Mr. Jaitley told journalists.

At a press conference here, Congress leaders from Gujarat distributed copies of the Gujarat Lokayukt Act 1986 to buttress their argument. Clause 3 states: “… the Governor shall, by warrant under his hand and seal, appoint a person known as the Lokayukt; provided that the Lokayukt shall be appointed after consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court and except where such appointment is to be made at a time when the Legislative Assembly of the State of Gujarat has been dissolved or a proclamation under Article 356 of the Constitution is in operation in the State, after consultation also with the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly …”

In this particular instance, the Governor received the name of Justice Mehta from the CJI, Gujarat, and after approval by the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Shaktisinh Govil, notified the appointment.

The Congress has charged that the Chief Minister tried to hide huge scams in the State – CAG reports have unearthed scandals to the tune of Rs.26,000 crore – by preventing the appointment of a Lokayukt for seven long years, although, recently “he gave full-throated support to the Anna Hazare demand for an independent Lokpal at the Centre.”

Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia told journalists that “the BJP was desperate” as Chief Minister Narendra Modi was “the main fund manager of the BJP.” Mohan Prakash, Congress general secretary in-charge of Gujarat, said: “The attempt is to divert the attention of the people of Gujarat from the financial irregularities to the tune of Rs.26,000 crore unearthed by the CAG reports.”

“The irony is the BJP wants a strong Lokpal at the Centre but a Chief Minister's Lokayukt in Gujarat,” he said.

The Congress pointed out that when the former BJP general secretary (organisation) Sunder Singh Bhandari was the Gujarat Governor during the Vajpayee government's tenure, he had clearly noted in his order (DO NO CLSXXIV/CO4 dated 17 April 2000) that the CJI of Gujarat was the qualified authority to give the name for the post of the Lokayukt. Justice D.H. Shukla was appointed the Lokayukt from 1988 to 1993 and retired Justice S.M. Soni held the position from 1998 to 2003. In both cases, there was no resolution by the Council of Ministers approving the names sent by the CJI.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 9:00:33 AM |

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