Amid protests and a walkout by Opposition MLAs in the Assembly, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party on Tuesday pushed through a new Gujarat Lokayukta Aayog Bill, 2013 that seeks to end the role of the Governor and the Chief Justice of the High Court in appointing the ombudsman.
The Bill proposes a seven-member selection panel headed by the Chief Minister, which will recommend a candidate for the Lokayukta’s post, and the Governor’s role would only be to ratify the candidate. The other members will be a minister hand-picked by the Chief Minister, the Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, a High Court judge nominated by the Chief Justice and the State Vigilance Commissioner.
The existing Gujarat Lokayukta Act, 1986, empowers the Governor to appoint the ombudsman in consultation with the Chief Justice and the Leader of Opposition. This has now been done away with.
The proposed law comes in the wake of a veritable slugfest between Governor Kamla Beniwal and Chief Minister Narendra Modi after Raj Bhavan appointed retired judge R.A. Mehta in August 2011 in consultation with the Chief Justice and the Leader of the Opposition, ignoring the Council of Ministers.
The government lost this battle in the Supreme Court and after its review petition was also rejected, it moved a curative petition challenging Justice Mehta’s appointment.
Defending the government in the Assembly, Finance Minister Nitin Patel refuted the charge that the Bill sought to curtail the Governor's powers and that its sole purpose was to prevent Justice Mehta from taking charge. The BJP in an explanatory note, later, also stated that the Bill protects the right of Justice Mehta to take charge though he has passed the age of 72 years as prescribed by the new legislation.
Interestingly, the BJP’s central leadership has defended Gujarat, saying the Bill in fact diluted the powers of the Council of Ministers.
In a note distributed to the media, the BJP said the Supreme Court had said the Governor is supposed to act as head of state “on the aid and advice of Council of Ministers while deciding on appointment of Lokayukta.” The party pointed out that instead of the Council of Ministers, a panel would now recommend the name of the Lokayukta.
The legislation proposes to bring the entire government machinery, as well as councillors and elected representatives of all local bodies, within its purview. The new Lokayukta Commission will have four up-lokayuktas, two of whom are judicial members and two administrative.
This story has been edited to correct an editing error in the print version.