The Narendra Modi government on Tuesday passed a new Gujarat Lokayukta Ayog Bill that seeks to dilute the powers of the governor and the high court chief justice in the appointment of the lokayukta, the highest anti-corruption ombudsman in the state.
The bill hands the power to a six-member committee headed by Modi. The state governor would have to act on the committee's recommendations.
The move follows a bitter legal battle between the state government and Gujarat governor Kamla Beniwal.
Bypassing the state government, Beniwal had appointed justice RA Mehta as the state lokayukta after consulting the high court chief justice and the leader of the opposition. The Supreme Court had upheld the appointment in January.
A combative Modi government has now filed a curative petition in the apex court purportedly to scuttle the appointment.
The government also introduced the bill on the last day of the assembly session, amid a walkout by members of the opposition.
"To ensure that no independent inquiry is ever held into corruption-related complaints, the government deliberately avoided the appointment of the lokayukta," leader of opposition Shankersinh Vaghela said.
The bill has several other provisions to empower the Modi government. For example, the lokayukta would have to seek the government's permission before acting on a complaint.
If a complaint is found to be frivolous, the complainant will have to deposit Rs. 2,000-Rs. 25,000 as fine and may also be jailed for up to six months.
Also, the state government will not be bound to act on any report filed by the lokayukta. Under the new bill, the government also has the power to exclude any 'public functionaries' from the lokayukta's jurisdiction.