CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that nowhere in India had Lokayuktas been given omnipotent powers as in Kerala.
“There was not even a provision for appeal,” Kodiyeri said, defending the LDF government's move to promulgate an ordinance to dilute the powers of Kerala Lokayukta. “The powers were so sweeping that the Lokayukta could unseat the government in power,” Kodiyeri said.
He was speaking to reporters after the CPM State Secretariat meeting in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday. He said the amendments were made based on the legal advice offered by the advocate general. “The AG gave his advice after examining the Lokayukta acts in other states and also the Lokpal Act of the Centre,” Kodiyeri said.
He said the Lokayukta in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat had no power to remove constitutional authorities from office. “Even in Congress-ruled Punjab the government had brought in an amendment in 2020 taking away the Lokayukta's powers to order the removal of the Chief Minister, ministers and MLAs,” he said.
Kodiyeri said that such sweeping powers of the Lokayukta did not tally with article 164 of the Constitution. “This article says that the Chief Minister and ministers will hold office as per the pleasure of the Governor. The existing Lokayukta Act encroaches upon the power of the Governor,” he said.
Kodiyeri also said that the ordinance was not brought in haste. “The advice was given on April 21, 2021, by the former AG, C P Sudhakara Prasad,” he said. He revealed the date of the AG's advice to take the edge off the opposition charge that the ordinance was being quickly promulgated in anticipation of an adverse Lokayukta verdict against higher education minister R Bindu in the Kannur University Vice Chancellor re-appointment issue. “Ramesh Chennithala filed his Lokayukta complaint only in November 2022,” Kodiyeri said.
However, Kodiyeri was reminded that the date on which the AG first gave his advice, April 21, 2021, was also the day former higher education minister K T Jaleel was forced to resign in the wake of a Lokayukta order against him. “Many factors prompt the AG to offer legal advice to the government,” Kodiyeri said. “In fact, the director general of prosecution had given a note on these lines as early as 2006,” he added.
Kodiyeri also said there was no need to consult the opposition leader on the issue. “There is no practice of the ruling party seeking the opinion of the opposition before issuing an ordinance. Has the UDF ever consulted the opposition leader before issuing an ordinance when in power?” he asked. “The opposition leader needs to be consulted only when the Lokayukta is appointed,” he said.
As it stands, the Lok Ayukta or an Upa-Lokayukta orders arrived at after investigation into complaints is binding on the government. The "competent authority" - the Governor or the Chief Minister or the government as the case may be - "shall accept the declaration".
The proposed ordinance now bestows power on the "competent authority" to either accept or reject the Lokayukta order after conducting a final hearing. The "competent authority", however, will have to take a decision within three months or the Lokayukta verdict will be deemed as accepted.