Furore in Kerala over Lok Ayukta

The Opposition says the government wants to replace the Governor as the competent authority

Updated - August 29, 2022 01:14 am IST

Published - August 29, 2022 12:30 am IST

Photo: swachhbharat.mygov.in

Photo: swachhbharat.mygov.in

The Kerala Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Bill, 2022, has raised the political temperature in the State.

It has brought up a swirl of issues to the fore of the public debate, including the Opposition's allegation that the proposed law aspired to accord the executive appellate authority over damning decisions by the anti-corruption ombudsman.

Also read | Kerala Assembly sends Lok Ayukta amendment Bill to Subject Committee

The Bill might open a new legal and political battleground between the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) opposition. Much about the proposed law remains in the realm of conjecture, though the UDF has opposed the legislation vehemently.

The official Bill is likely to provide more clarity on the matter. The Bill will assume final form only after vetting by the Subject Committee.

The Opposition says it has reasons to believe that the Bill aspires to replace the Governor as the competent authority to accept or reject any unfavourable decision by the Lok Ayukta (under Section 14(5) of the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act, 1999) against the Chief Minister of the State.

In the case of Ministers found guilty of corruption or nepotism by the Lok Ayukta, the proposed law allegedly bestows appellate powers on the Chief Minister (the competent authority).

The UDF has damned the Bill as a violation of the cardinal principle of natural justice, saying “no one should be a judge in their own cause.” It argues that the Bill violates the fundamental right to equality before the law.

The Bill accords the executive appellate jurisdiction over the judiciary. The amendment aspires to vest unqualified judicial power in the executive.

Slamming the bill, the Opposition said it had shamed the Kerala Assembly, which passed scores of landmark legislation. Terming the Bill as colourable legislation, it accused the government of foraying into an area where it had no right to pass laws.

The government, however, views the Lok Ayukta as an investigation mechanism, not a quasi-judicial body. It believes the current law is against the Act's preamble and glaringly lacks an appeal provision.

The LDF notes that the Lok Pal Act allowed States to pass and amend their respective Lok Ayukta laws. It argues that Article 164 of the Constitution mandated that the Governor appoint or dismiss the Council of Ministers. However, as per the current law, the Lok Ayukta could "destroy" a constitutionally elected government by an adverse ruling. The State could not even appeal against the Lok Ayukta's declaration under Section 14, which was final and binding.

Also read | Lok Ayukta has no jurisdiction to look into complaints against local body staff: Kerala High Court

Questions abound in the social and mainstream media about the Bill's motive. The UDF has viewed it as a Machiavellian move to forestall the ongoing anti-corruption investigations against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

The government had initially pushed the Bill as an ordinance through the Cabinet, allegedly blindsiding the Communist Party of India (CPI), the second major partner in the LDF coalition. It introduced the amendment as a Bill after the Governor refused to re-promulgate the executive order.

The CPI has expressed reservations about the Bill, triggering widespread speculation that the government wanted to shred a proven law and perhaps the only remaining guardrail against corruption and nepotism.

The Bill comes at a time when an amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act has made it mandatory for the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption to seek the government's prior permission to investigate or chargesheet government officials. The legal and political strife over the Bill is unlikely to end anytime soon.


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