By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2022-01-26 13:19:48
Corruption in India is endemic. From the lowest to the highest levels, things move only on greasing palms or giving a cut. Nepotism and favoritism are its siblings. When those tasked with governing the country are corrupt or use their official position to bestow undue favors on someone, there needs to be a check on this. Out of this realization the office of the Lokayukta, an ombudsman designed to stop corruption in government, was born. The Lokayukta was given sweeping powers to inquire into complaints against ministers and bureaucrats, among others, and pass orders to put a stop to corrupt practices. The orders of the Lokayukta were binding on the government subject to judicial scrutiny to the extent that such orders were not beyond the remit of the Lokayukta's office as per the given law.
Kerala also has the state Lokayukta. Several decisions of the Lokayukta's office have ruffled the feathers of the state government by exposing corrupt practices in the administration. In the most high profile ruling, the state Lokayukta had found the state higher education minister K T Jaleel had bent rules to get one of his relatives the post of general manager in the Kerala State Minorities Development Finance Corporation. Jaleel contested the Lokayukta's order in the Kerala HC and the Supreme Court but got no relief and was forced to resign.
The Kerala Lokayukta Act, 1999 prescribes that all orders of the Lokayukta are binding on the government. Now, the LDF government in the state wants to amend the Act through an ordinance and make this the choice of the competent authority (which can be the Governor or the Chief Minister). The competent authority is now being given powers to either accept or refuse the order of the Lokayukta within three months, failing which it will stand. This effectively kills the very purpose for which the office of the Lokayukta was established.
The LDF government is trying to reinforce the very highhandedness which the Lokayukta was supposed to prevent. Effectively, what the LDF government is trying to say through the amendment is that it is not the business of the Lokayukta to say who committed a wrong and who is corrupt. The government will decide that. Then why have a Lokayukta at all?
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