Opinion | Taming of Kerala Lokayukta and a pocket veto scenario of yore

A clash between the gubernatorial office and the state government is a feast for media. In the long rule of Grand Old Party, the Governor’s office was frequently used as a tool to meddle with the affairs of the state. But that mostly pertained to keeping the state Assemblies in animated suspension for the Centre to rule by proxy. Administrative issues seldom were the bone of contention.

There have been serious tiffs between the Union government and the President also. In 1986, President Zail Singh exercised what is known as the Pocket Veto, or the act of sitting on a Postal Service Amendment Bill, which would have purportedly allowed the government to snoop on citizens’ letters, sent for assent by the Rajiv Gandhi government. Pocket Veto is the act of sitting on legislation without actually vetoing it.

The Bill was later withdrawn by the Centre in 2002.

The Pocket Veto comes into play as the Constitution does not envisage a time frame for presidential or gubernatorial action.

Such an impromptu act played out in Kerala, vis-a-vis the Lokayukta ordinance sent for the Governor’s nod.

Rajiv Gandhi
In this photograph taken on May 20, 1991 National Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi casts his ballot at a polling station in New Delhi for the first round of the general election. File photo: STEFAN ELLIS/AFP

The Pinarayi government’s contention was that the Lokayukta infringes on the rights of the Cabinet. Hence, it sought powers to reject or accept the verdict of the anti-corruption body, albeit after a hearing.

This would curtail the power of the Lokayukta, the opposition charged. The government countered no such power is vested with the Lokayukta in any state.

The government seemingly took the ordinance route to circumvent a discussion in the state assembly’s budget session. The government did not announce the dates of the budget session as it would have forced the Bill to be debated there.

Former President Zail Singh. Photo: Manorama Archives

The timing is also important. Five cases, including three cases against CM Pinarayi Vijayan for payout from CM’s Distress Relief Fund to ineligible persons are before the anti-graft body.

K T Jaleel, a minister in the first Pinarayi Government, had to quit following a Lokayukta verdict, prompting the government to take steps to tame the Lokayukta’s powers.

So the CM took his time to return to India after a US trip by taking part in a series of meetings and functions in the Gulf. The Governor also was out of town triggering a pocket veto sort of situation vis-a-vis the ordinance.

So, if the stalemate had to end, either the government should take the assembly route to discuss threadbare the nitty-gritty of the move to checkmate the Lokayukta. Or the Governor needed to sign the ordinance.

The CM has now briefed the Governor on the need for a legislation to tame the Lokayukta. And the Ordinance finally got the nod.

Tailpiece trade-off: Newspaper reports say a BJP state committee member’s appointment as an additional private secretary to the governor is under the consideration of the Chief Minister. Will the dotted (reading between the) line be signed for a Win-Win? 

An announcement on the dates of the budget session of the State Assembly is likely any time now.

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