The Assembly sent the Kerala Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Bill, 2022, to the Subject Committee despite strong objections from the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition.
The debate over the Bill saw Law Minister P. Rajeeve having a duel with Leader of Opposition V.D. Satheesan over the constitutionality of the proposed law. Mr. Satheesan said the Bill empowered the executive to adjudicate on the decree passed by a judicial body.
Separation of powers
He said Mr. Rajeeve had paved the way for the executive to rob the powers of the anti-corruption Ombudsman. The Bill ran against the doctrine of the separation of powers guaranteed by the Constitution.
He said the Bill envisaged empowering the Chief Minister as the competent authority, instead of the Governor, accepting or rejecting an adverse declaration by the anti-corruption Ombudsman (under Section 14 (5) of the Kerala Lok Ayukta, Act, 1999.) against Cabinet Ministers.
A declaration under the provision makes it incumbent on the competent authority to remove the person from public office. It also envisions banning the errant official from holding public office again.
(The Bill will assume final form only after vetting by the Subject Committee. By some accounts, the Opposition believes the government proposes the Assembly, instead of the Governor, as the competent authority to comply with or turn down the Lok Ayukta's unfavourable declaration against the Chief Minister. 0The official Bill is likely to provide more clarity on the matter.)
Mr. Satheesan said the Bill violated the fundamental right to equality before the law.
At a stroke, it has placed the political executive above judicial scrutiny. The Bill accorded the executive appellate jurisdiction over the judiciary. The amendment aspired to vest unqualified judicial power in the executive. By proposing to bestow appellate authority on the Chief Minister, the government had violated the principle of natural justice that "no one should be a judge in their own cause (Nemo judex in causa sua).
Mr. Satheesan termed the Bill colourable legislation. The government had forayed into an area where it had no right to pass laws. The government wanted to shred a law that was an effective guard rail against corruption.
Mr. Rajeeve countered Mr. Satheesan's argument that the Lok Ayukta is a quasi-judicial body with adjudication powers equivalent to a civil court. "It is an investigation mechanism, not a judicial body. The Lok Ayukta cannot conduct an investigation and pass judgement simultaneously. Such powers are against the principles of jurisprudence. The current law is against the Act's preamble," he said.