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Homechevron_rightOpinionchevron_rightEditorialchevron_rightA defanged Lok Ayukta

A defanged Lok Ayukta

A defanged Lok Ayukta

In December 2019, in the CPM mouthpiece, ‘Chintha’, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote: "The usual saying about the Ombudsman is that it is a watchdog that can only bark but not bite. However, the Kerala version of the Ombudsman, the Lokayukta, has been legally vested with extensive powers. Ours is a Lokayukta system that can bite if need be". He presented the Lok Ayukta as a symbol of the government's determination against corruption and maladministration, and rightly so. The Lok Ayukta was a quasi-judicial institution that anyone could approach, without any financial burden, against various tendencies in the administrative department, such as corruption, inefficiency, apathy, and delay. In many cases, solutions were found immediately, without looking at faces. However, with the President signing the Lok Ayukta Amendment Bill, all that is now history. From now on, the Lok Ayukta will be just a 'toothless dog' that can only bark but not bite. It is to be noted that a party and front that had declared an uncompromising struggle against corruption and nepotism have not only backtracked from their declared policy but are also seen to be shielding the malpractices in the corridors of power. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Pinarayi government has snatched away the best weapon that was available to the common man to audit public servants and bureaucrats.

Two years ago, the Left government brought in an ordinance to amend the Lok Ayukta Act. Although Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, who was already at loggerheads with the state government, initially blocked the ordinance; it was only after the Chief Minister met him directly at Raj Bhavan that the ordinance was passed. Later, by the time the bill was introduced and passed in the Legislative Assembly and reached Raj Bhavan, the rift between the two had reached its peak. Arif Mohammed Khan, who was sitting in Raj Bhavan and doing the bidding of the central government, sent all the bills he had blocked to the President. Among them was the Lok Ayukta Amendment Bill. The President, who had also blocked the university bills along with this, however, rejected Arif Khan's wishes in the matter of Lok Ayukta and signed the bill. Unfortunately, our mainstream media and political parties only saw this 'cockfight' in politics. Naturally, they interpreted the President's move as a setback for Arif Khan and a victory for the Pinarayi government. While that is true on one side, there is a big reality that is being forgotten here: when the Lok Ayukta amendment becomes a reality, it opens up a new escape route for corrupt politicians and officials. One key amendment made is on the provision by which if the Lok Ayukta finds a person guilty in a corruption case, the Chief Minister and Ministers will have to resign. According to the amendment, if the Lok Ayukta issues an order against the Chief Minister, the Legislative Assembly is the appellate authority. For ministers, the Chief Minister is the appellate authority, and for MLAs, it is the Speaker. The ultimate result of this amendment is that after Lok Ayukta's findings and observations in a case, it will be the will of the government that will decide the matter. Thus, a system that had been running flawlessly for a quarter of a century has now been turned into a sham.

The new Lok Ayukta law in Kerala also brings significant changes, especially in the matter of appointments and cases against office bearers of political parties. In essence, it can be summarized as a move that brings everything under the control of the state government. It is ironic that the Lok Ayukta that was introduced in 1999 by the left government led by EK Nayanar, is being overturned by a left government comprising cabinet members who were also in the said Nayanar cabinet. The draft presented in the assembly at that time also contained the current amendment proposals. However, it was due to the opposition from the then-ruling party members, who were considered apostles of idealistic politics, that the Lok Ayukta remained a relatively unblemished model for 24 years. Is the CPM and the Left government's current stance that the earlier position was wrong? That is the feeling one gets while hearing the current government's argument that the 'absolute' power of the Lok Ayukta infringes upon the fundamental rights of public servants in many ways. And they also present K.T. Jaleel MLA as a public servant whose fundamental right was violated in that manner. It is true that Jaleel resigned following the Lok Ayukta verdict. However, they conveniently forget that the Lok Ayukta's findings were upheld by the High Court and the Supreme Court. Finally, it should not be forgotten that the government turned to curtail the Lok Ayukta's powers only when a complaint was filed against the Chief Minister in the Lok Ayukta. What is being undermined here is the right of citizens to participate in politics and governance. This anti-democratic approach is deplorable.

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TAGS:Pinarayi VijayanEditorialKerala governmentGovernor Arif Mohammad KhanCPI-MLok Ayukta
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