Kerala guv signs ordinance clipping Lokayukta powers

Published on Feb 08, 2022 12:16 AM IST

Now with the governor giving his assent “a competent body will have power either to accept or reject the verdict of Lokayukta after giving an opportunity to hear parties concerned,” according to the ordinance.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who returned to the state on Saturday after week-long visit to the United Arab Emirates, called on the governor on Sunday and held one-hour discussion on the ordinance. (HT Photo)
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who returned to the state on Saturday after week-long visit to the United Arab Emirates, called on the governor on Sunday and held one-hour discussion on the ordinance. (HT Photo)

Thiruvananthapuram

Kerala governor Arif Mohammad Khan on Monday signed the ordinance to amend the Kerala Lokayukta Act, 1999 aimed at curtailing powers of the anti-corruption body, a move which drew protests from the opposition.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who returned to the state on Saturday after week-long visit to the United Arab Emirates, called on the governor on Sunday and held one-hour discussion on the ordinance.

Earlier, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) urged the governor not to sign the ordinance, which, they said, would turn the Lokayukta redundant.

Now with the governor giving his assent “a competent body will have power either to accept or reject the verdict of Lokayukta after giving an opportunity to hear parties concerned,” according to the ordinance.

One of the strongest anti-corruption bodies of the country, under Section 14 of the Kerala Lokayuka Act, a public servant is required to vacate office immediately if indicted by Lokayukta. But the new amendment takes away Section 14 and now Lokayukta has only recommendatory authority, not mandatory jurisdiction. Now its verdict can be accepted or rejected by a competent authority constituted by the executive.

Interestingly, the Kerala Lokayuka Act was enacted by the CPI(M) government led by E K Nayanar in 1999, who always favoured a strong body to check corruption and included all posts under its ambit. When reporters asked about this, party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said last week that “political situation in the country is now different from Nayanar era.”

The government’s move came at a time when left parties were demanding that all high offices, including the Prime Minister, should come under the ambit of Lokpal.

Ruling Left Democratic Front partner Communist Party of India (CPI) had expressed its reservation over the ordinance and even after the governor’s assent, its leader Kanam Rajendran said the party’s concern remained unaddressed. “Our position remains the same. No discussion was held on this and we could have waited till the assembly session instead of taking an ordinance route,” he said.

Rajendran also took a dig at the governor, saying “he might have been convinced about urgency behind ordinance”.

The Congress deplored the decision of the governor, saying “both the BJP and CPI(M) have arrived at an understanding to help each other to weaken Congress.”

“The Lokayukta Act was there for last 23 years and what is the need to amend it all of a sudden. The government got panicked after three cases against the CM are coming up before the anti-corruption body. These cases forced the government to curtail powers of the body. It is a shame on the party,” said opposition leader V D Satheesan, adding the government insulted the law-making body.

The BJP also criticised the governor’s action. “We thought the governor will return it without signing it. Now the new amendment has given a free licence to the government to indulge in corruption,” said party state president K Surendran.

But CPI(M) leader A Vijayaraghavan has welcomed the governor’s decision.

Last year then higher education minister K T Jaleel was forced to resign after the Lokayukta found him guilty of nepotism. Jaleel was found to have lobbied for a relative to be appointed as the general manager of the State Minority Welfare Corporation. He allegedly diluted some of the qualifications required for the post to fit in his kin. Though Jaleel moved the high court and Supreme Court, both refused to entertain his plea against Lokayukta’s ruling.

Political observers feel that Jaleel verdict might have forced the government to take a hasty ordinance route. “We never expected this from a Left government,” said Joseph C Mathew, a political analyst.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Ramesh Babu is HT’s bureau chief in Kerala, with about three decades of experience in journalism.

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