The Assembly on Tuesday passed the Kerala Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Bill, amid a boycott by the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition, which tore up copies of the Bill and walked out, calling it a black day in the history of the State's legislature.
It accused the Left Democratic Front government of using its majority to defang an effective anti-corruption mechanism. The Governor's assent now becomes crucial for the Bill, which according to the Opposition would face legal hurdles owing to the "anti-constitutional amendments."
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala raised a point of order over the Subject Committee making further amendments without any special instruction from the House or the Speaker.
The amendments were related to the competent authority to consider Lok Ayukta recommendations. In the case of any unfavourable decision from the Lok Ayukta against the Chief Minister, the competent authority will now be the Assembly instead of the Governor in the existing Act.
In the case of an MLA, the Speaker will be the competent authority, while in the case of Ministers, the Chief Minister will be the competent authority. The competent authorities will also now have the option to either accept or reject the Lok Ayukta recommendations.
Citing precedents, Speaker M.B. Rajesh ruled that the Subject Committee had the power to amend any section intimately connected to the amending Bill.
Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan said the amendments were against the principle of natural justice by which “no one should be a judge in their own cause.” The amendments are a clear case of encroachment of power as it has handed over the powers of the judiciary to the legislative and the executive.
When the legislature was made an appellate authority, the MLAs of the government, which would always have the majority in the House, cannot be expected to take action against the Chief Minister found guilty by the Lok Ayukta, he said.
CPI(M) MLA A.C. Moideen said the existing law placed a statutory body above democratically elected Ministers and MLAs. Such overreaching powers, which are anti-democratic and anti-constitutional, should be corrected, especially in the current context of the BJP-RSS-led Union government misusing investigating agencies, Governors and such bodies as well as its money power to topple non-BJP State governments.
In his reply, Law Minister P. Rajeeve said the amendments being made were in line with the Lok Pal Act, and even improved upon some of its clauses, especially the requirement that the competent authority had to cite a reason for rejecting the Lok Ayukta recommendation. Mr. Rajeeve also cited an order issued by the A.K. Antony government in April 2004 against giving adjudicatory powers to the Lok Ayukta.
Mr. Satheesan said that such an order did not defang the Lok Ayukta Act, nor did the then government tried to amend it through the Assembly, despite having a majority.