Presidential nod for Lok Ayukta Bill comes as a let-down for Kerala Governor and a political win for LDF

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan sent the Bill passed by Kerala Assembly in 2022 for a Presidential assent, drawing harsh criticism from the State government

February 28, 2024 11:30 pm | Updated February 29, 2024 12:21 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

A file photo of Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan

A file photo of Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan | Photo Credit: Mahinsha S

In what is arguably a major political victory for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, the President has reportedly signalled assent for the Kerala Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Bill.

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan sent the Bill passed by the Assembly in 2022 for a Presidential assent, drawing harsh criticism from the State government. The Presidential diktat would constrain him to sign the contentious amendment into law.

It has come as an arguable let-down for Mr. Khan, who has been on a warpath against the LDF government.

He had also sent the Kerala University Amendment Bill passed by the Assembly that seeks to remove the Governor as Chancellor of State-funded universities for presidential assent.

Moreover, the Students Federation of India was on the warpath against Mr. Khan, accusing him of attempting to stack university syndicates with Sangh Parivar nominees.

The law aspires to circumscribe the powers of the Lok Ayutka from banning a public servant from holding office if found guilty of maladministration and corruption.

Also read | Untangling Kerala’s Lokayukta controversy

Instead, it gives the political executive appellate authority over the Lok Ayukta’s declaration.

In the case of any unfavourable decision from the Lok Ayukta against the Chief Minister, the competent authority in the existing Act will now be the Assembly instead of the Governor.

In the case of an MLA, the Speaker will be the competent authority. In contrast, in the case of Ministers, the Chief Minister will be the competent authority. The competent authorities will also now have the option to accept or reject the Lok Ayukta recommendations.

Mr. Khan and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition had argued that the law was against the principle of natural justice by which “no one should be a judge in their own cause.” The amendments were a clear case of executive overreach.

The LDF had argued that the existing law placed a statutory body above democratically elected Ministers and MLAs. Moreover, the Lok Ayutka’s order was absolute and insulated from appeal in the Higher Court. Such absolute authority that ran against the grain of natural justice was constitutionally unsustainable, the LDF argued.

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