Keeping in mind that the position of Gujarat’s lokayukta had been vacant for seven years, the state’s governor, Kamla Beniwal, had appointed retired high court judge RA Mehta to the post in August 2011. Feeling slighted that its council of ministers was bypassed in this process of appointment, the Gujarat government moved the Supreme Court, asking that the new anti-corruption ombudsman be removed. The apex court rejected this contention, as also the government’s review petition. Neither Narendra Modi nor his government, though, seems to have a predilection for backing down. The BJP ensured that on Tuesday, the Gujarat assembly passes the controversial Lokayukta Ayog Bill.
It comes as little surprise that according to the new legislation, the governor’s duty will now only be perfunctory and limited to ratifying a candidate for the lokayukta’s office. This candidate will come selected by a seven-member panel that will be headed by the state’s chief minister. Members of the Opposition, who walked out of the BJP-dominated assembly in protest, appear to have justifiable grievances. Provisions of this new Bill will not only force the lokayukta to ask for the government’s permission before acting on a complaint, it gives the state government the option to not act on reports filed by the lokayukta and also the power to exclude public functionaries from the ombudsman’s jurisdiction. By pushing such a contentious Bill on the last day of the assembly’s budget session, the Gujarat government hasn’t just demonstrated its legislative muscle, it has also undermined the importance of transparency.
On the day that the Narendra Modi government effectively appropriated the anti-corruption mechanism of a lokayukta’s office, a Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report was also tabled in the Gujarat assembly. The report criticised the state government for both, irregularities in land allotment and imprudent fiscal management.
Such claims would perhaps best be examined in a state where the lokayukta is empowered, as opposed to compromised. Moreover, one of the major criticisms that the ombudsman’s office has faced is that there is no parity between lokayukta legislations in various states. Here’s hoping that what Gandhinagar has thought today, the nation will choose not to replicate tomorrow.