UDF asks governor to reject Lok Ayukta Ordinance

The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition on Thursday sought the intervention of Governor Arif Mohammed Khan to thwart the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government’s “under-the-table” move to promulgate an Ordinance to “defang” the Kerala Lok Ayukta and relegate the Ombudsman to a “nominal advisory role” in critical public interest cases related to corruption, nepotism, maladministration and abuse of official power.

A UDF delegation led by Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan met Mr. Khan and entreated him to withhold gubernatorial assent to the proposed executive order.

Later talking to reporters outside Raj Bhavan, Mr. Satheesan said the CPI(M) had furtively pressed for an executive order in a Cabinet meeting last week to "dilute" Section 14 of the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act, 1999.

The proposal aimed to forestall the Constitutional and political fallout of possible adverse Lok Ayukta findings against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Higher Education Minister R. Bindu.

The Lok Ayukta is currently investigating allegations of corruption and nepotism against them. The complainants, including Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala, had moved the ombudsman for a "declaration" banning the leaders from holding public office under section 14 of the Act.

The decisive Section empowers the Lok Ayukta to recommend the "competent authority" to eject a corrupt public official from office and deter the offender from holding the post again. Such a declaration is final and binding and not subject to appeal as per the Act.

Tellingly in 2021, an adverse declaration by the Lok Ayukta had cost LDF Independent legislator K.T. Jaleel his job as Higher Education Minister in the previous Pinarayi Vijayan cabinet.

Mr. Satheesan said the government’s “suspicious haste” to abrogate Section 14 of the Act betrayed its visceral fear that Dr. Jaleel’s fate might befall Mr. Vijayan or Dr. Bindu.

He said the amendment Ordinance erroneously proposes to give the political executive appellate jurisdiction over Lok Ayukta's findings by tasking the Governor, Chief Minister, or the government as the case may be, to accept or reject the Ombudsman's ruling after hearing the opposing parties. The executive order, if allowed, would institutionalise corruption in government.

Minister’s stand

Law Minister P. Rajeeve defended the Ordinance stating that it glaringly lacked an appeal provision. The original legislation was flawed and required an amendment. Such absolute power was Constitutionally untenable and violative of natural justice.

Hence, the Cabinet had resolved to close the legal loophole via an amendment Ordinance. Several other states had done the same.

A succession of High Court judgments and expert legal advice justified the Cabinet's unanimous decision. Mr. Rajeeve said the Lok Pal Act allowed States to pass and suitably amend their respective Lok Ayukta laws.

He denied the UDF claim that such an "amendment Ordinance" required Presidential assent. He said Lok Ayukta rules were the State's jurisdiction.

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Printable version | May 22, 2022 6:21:23 pm |