Kerala govt to amend Lok Ayukta Act; Cong, BJP cry foul

  • | Tuesday | 25th January, 2022

Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 25 (PTI) The CPI(M)-led LDF government in Kerala on Tuesday justified its decision to amend the Lok Ayukta Act, saying the move was to ensure natural justice and make it more in accordance with the Constitution, Lokpal and similar legislations in other states, even as the opposition alleged that it was to "undermine" the powers of the ombudsman and to facilitate corruption.State Minister for Law, P Rajeev said the move to promulgate an ordinance was not a sudden decision as alleged by the opposition but the process began last April during the tenure of the previous government.He also said the government considered the suggestion for a new legislation in view of two High Court verdicts saying the Lok Ayukta does not have mandatory jurisdiction but only recommendatory jurisdiction.The Advocate General (AG) also gave legal opinion that Section 14 of the Act was in violation of the Constitutional articles 163,164 and suggested to amend it to make it more in accordance with the existing laws in the country, he added."The amendment is in accordance with the Constitution, Lokpal and similar Acts in other states. As per the new law, the Lok Ayukta can submit its report to the government. The Government, Governor or the concerned authority should take a decision on it within three months," the minister told reporters here.Rajeev also said natural justice would be ensured in every case coming before the agency and those facing charges would get a chance to go for appeal.Noting that the government would not compromise on corruption, he also rubbished charges of the opposition Congress and BJP that the decision was taken as the agency was about to consider the complaints against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Higher Education Minister R Bindhu.During the tenure of the previous LDF government, the then Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel had to resign from the cabinet, days after the state Lokayukta"s finding that he had abused his position as a public servant to favour a relative.Meanwhile, the Congress urged the Governor Arif Mohammed Khan not to sign the ordinance in this connection. They alleged that the CPI(M)-led government was trying to curb the powers of the agency by promulgating an ordinance at a time when complaints of several irregularities of the government were pending before it. The ordinance was reportedly approved during the last cabinet meeting, but there was no reference to it in the cabinet brief issued by the government later. Appealing to the Governor not to give assent to the ordinance, Opposition Leader V D Satheesan sent a letter to him saying the move was to "waterdown" the powers of the Lok Ayukta. It is reliably learnt that the proposed ordinance has provisions to cut down the powers of the agency to mere advisory in nature and relax the qualification of the anti-corruption agency inter alia. He also expressed apprehension that this would destroy the very existence of the establishment of the watchdog.Referring to the Section 3 of the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act, 1999, Satheesan pointed out that a person can only be appointed as Lok Ayukta if he had previously served as a Supreme Court Judge or a Chief Justice of a High Court."Weakening this provision to allow any former High Court Judge to hold office will only serve to lower the status of the state"s most significant institution. Above all, it is learned that the proposed ordinance will curtail the powers of the Lok Ayukta to mere advisory in nature," the Congress leader said in the letter. Taking away the powers of the anti-corruption agency would "spell doom" to the entire institution and intended to destroy it, he said and requested the Governor to abstain from giving assent to the ordinance considering public interest. Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala also raised strong objections to the move saying the government should make it clear what urgent situation had prompted them to come with the ordinance at a time when the state Assembly is all set to convene next month.A Chief Minister of the CPI(M), which had campaigned for strengthening anti-corruption measures through systems like Lokpal, is now trying to clip the wings of state Lok Ayukta, Chennithala alleged. He also alleged that the government was forced to bring out the ordinance as two complaints- one against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and another one against Higher Education Minister R Bindhu- were pending before the agency. "It is better to dissolve Lok Ayukta itself," Chennithala added.Meanwhile, BJP state Chief K Surendran alleged that the government took the hasty decision as the Lok Ayukta was considering some of the biggest corruption scandals against the government. He claimed that the agency was considering seriously the charge that the money from the Chief Minister"s Distress Relief Fund was disbursed among underserved persons. The move was the latest example of the Left government to take control of all constitutional institutions, Surendran added. PTI LGK ROH ROH

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