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Narendra Modi govt gets bill that dilutes powers of Lokayukta passed

Apr 7, 2013 , ,


Narendra Modi govt gets bill that dilutes powers of Lokayukta passedAhmedabad: The Narendra Modi government in Gujarat is dogged by yet another controversy. This time over a contentious bill that proposes to alter the appointment process for the state Lokayukta. Amidst walkout by the opposition, the Lokayukta Commission Bill 2013 was passed in the state assembly with a voice vote riding on the clear majority it enjoys in the house. The bill envisages drastic overhaul of the appointment procedure for the state Lokayukta with the opposition alleging that it eliminated the role of the Governor and Chief justice from the selection procedure.

The Modi government has been on a collision course with the state Governor Kamla Beniwal who had appointed retired judge Justice RA Mehta as the state Lokayukta bypassing the state government.

The Modi government had moved the Supreme Court against the appointment which was rejected. An unrelenting state government later filed a review petition and now it has come up with a new bill.

As per the bill, the selection process will not have the Governor and the High Court Chief Justice in it. The bill envisages setting up of a broader commission whose appointment will be done by a selection committee comprising of the chief minister, a minister, the Assembly speaker, the leader of the opposition, a High Court judge and the state vigilance commissioner. There is also a provision for appointing four deputy Lokayuktas.

But the Lokayukta will have to seek permission from the government before acting on a complaint and its report won't be binding on the government. The opposition has charged the government with trying to control the watchdog. Legal experts point out that the elimination of the role of the High Court Chief Justice would impact the neutrality of the ombudsman.

"The new bill violates the primacy given to the opinion of the Chief Justice as also laid down by the Supreme Court. Secondly, it will be a government appointee and I don't think it will work as a watchdog of the government," said legal expert Girish Patel.

The passage of the bill has kicked off a huge political storm. While the government defends the bill denying that it altered the role of the Governor, the opposition is crying foul.

"There is a sinister motive behind the bill. The government wants to take complete control of the watchdog. What if there is a complaint against the chief minister and if the report recommends action, will he give a sanction for the same," questioned Leader of Opposition Shankersinh Vagehla during a discussion on the bill in the assembly.

The BJP denies the charges. "To the contrary, we want the institution to be strengthened. That's why we want a broader body to be set up," defended state finance minister Nitin Patel.

Questions are also being raised over the timing of the bill. Even as the government's curative petition was pending before the Supreme Court, the tabling of the bill on the last day of the current assembly session was being seen by the opposition as an attempt by the government to have a weak anti-corruption body.

Written by Rohit Bhan
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