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President Clears Kerala Lokayukta Act Amendment Bill, Governor’s Objection Overruled

The Kerala government has secured the President’s approval for the bill that curtails the Lokayukta’s power to issue binding orders, despite the Governor’s opposition and legal challenge.

The Kerala Lokayukta Act Amendment Bill, 2022, received the assent of President Droupadi Murmu on Wednesday (Feb 28), paving the way for the Kerala government to implement the controversial legislation that reduces the Lokayukta’s authority to issue binding orders on complaints of corruption and maladministration against public functionaries.

The bill was sent to the President by Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, who had refused to sign it, citing its unconstitutionality and inconsistency with the central Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013. The Governor had also approached the Supreme Court, challenging the validity of the bill and seeking a stay on its implementation.

The President’s approval has come as a major victory for the Kerala government, which passed the bill in the Assembly in August 2022, with the support of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF). The bill was introduced as a response to the adverse orders of the Lokayukta against some of the ministers and MLAs of the LDF, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in various cases of alleged corruption and nepotism.

The bill amends the Kerala Lokayukta Act, 1999, by inserting a new section that empowers the government to reject or modify the Lokayukta’s orders, if it thinks that they are not by the law or the Constitution, or that they are based on extraneous or irrelevant considerations, or that they are against the public interest. The bill also provides that the government’s decision on the Lokayukta’s orders shall be final and binding and that no court shall have the jurisdiction to entertain any challenge to it.

The bill has been widely criticized by various sections of society, including civil society activists, lawyers, former judges, and former Lokayuktas, who have termed it as a blatant attempt to undermine the institution of the Lokayukta and to shield the corrupt and the powerful from accountability. They have also argued that the bill violates the basic structure of the Constitution, which guarantees the separation of powers and the rule of law, and that it goes against the spirit of the central Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, which mandates the states to establish effective and independent anti-corruption ombudsmen.

The Kerala government, however, has defended the bill, claiming that it is aimed at ensuring the legality and constitutionality of the Lokayukta’s orders and that it does not affect the Lokayukta’s autonomy or functioning. It has also contended that the bill is in line with the central Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, which allows the states to make their laws on the subject, and that it is based on the recommendations of the Law Commission of India and the Administrative Reforms Commission.

The President’s assent to the bill has put an end to the Governor’s constitutional prerogative to withhold or reserve it, but it has not settled the legal dispute over its validity, which is still pending before the Supreme Court. The fate of the bill, and the future of the Lokayukta in Kerala, now depends on the apex court’s verdict.

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