Date: 20 October 2013
Subject: Gujarat:Locking horns
English: Image of Narendra Modi at the World E...

English: Image of Narendra Modi at the World Economic Forum in India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

THE appointment of a Lokayukta in Gujarat continues to be in limbo as both Governor Kamla Beniwal and Chief Minister Narendra Modi stick to their positions over the appointment. On September 2, the Governor returned the Gujarat Lokayukta Aayog Bill 2013 that the Assembly had passed in April.

In the Lokayukta Act 1986, the power of selection of the Lokayukta is with the Governor and the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court. The new Bill proposes to give all powers of appointment to a selection committee headed by the Chief Minister.

The Governor is expected to act on the recommendations of this committee.

The Bill calls for the appointment of a Lokayukta and five Upalokayuktas by the selection committee, which should include a judge of the High Court nominated by the Chief Justice, the Speaker of the House, the Leader of the Opposition, one other Minister and the State Vigilance Commissioner. Furthermore, investigations by the Lokayukta would have to be presented to the Council of Ministers instead of being tabled in the House.

The last time the Lokayukta’s post was filled in Gujarat was in 2003. On August 25, 2011, the Governor appointed Justice (retd) R.A. Mehta to the post of Lokayukta. The State government objected to the appointment; Modi wrote to the Prime Minister saying it was breach of “federal principles” and asked that the Governor be recalled. The BJP said the Lokayukta should be decided by elected representatives and not by the Governor.

A prolonged legal battle ensued. In January this year, the Supreme Court upheld Mehta’s appointment. But on August 7, Mehta declined to take charge saying the attitude of the State government would not allow him to carry out of his duties. He also said the controversy over his appointment had denigrated the office. Meanwhile, the State Assembly passed a Bill which, in essence, cut back the powers of the Governor and the Chief Justice in the appointment of the Lokayukta.

In her seven-page letter to the State government, the Governor wrote: “I am of the view that the provisions of Gujarat Lokayukta Aayog Bill 2013 are detrimental to the interest of public welfare, and the State legislature needs rethinking on the issues mentioned in the interest of the people of Gujarat.”

Commenting on the composition of the new Lokayukta office, she wrote: “The very constitution of the selection committee suggests that the Leader of Opposition and judge would be in a minority and their voice would have hardly any significance because their objections could be easily overruled…. The provision for the appointment of the Lokayukta cannot stand the scrutiny of any rationality and is in clear violation of the mandate which has been reflected from several decisions of the Supreme Court from time to time.”

At the root of the controversy is apparently a frantic effort by the Modi government to amend the Act so that corruption cases cannot be dealt with by the Lokayukta. Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia said his party had drawn attention in 2011 to the widespread corruption in the State and had presented to the Governor and the President a list of scams in Modi’s government.

Ten of the 17 allegations it made had to do with irregular allotment of land to industrial groups, including the Tatas, for their Nano plant; the Adanis for their port in Mundra; and Essar Steel. These allotments have been valued at more than Rs.1,00,000 crore and overshadowed the Rs.26,000 crore scam unearthed by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

Lyla Bavadam, in Frrontline 

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