Gujarat assembly passes bill for multi-member Lokayukta

Gandhinagar/New Delhi (IANS) The Gujarat assembly Tuesday passed a bill paving the way for the creation of multi-member Lokayukta body which will be selected by a six-member committee headed by the chief minister.

The Gujarat Lokayukta Aayog Bill, 2013, provides for Lokayukta and four Up-Lokayuktas to be selected by the a committee comprising the chief minister, assembly speaker, law minister, leader of opposition, a judge of the high court and the vigilance commissioner.

It completely erases the governor’s role in the appointment of Lokayukta, and also reduces the ombudsman’s age from earlier 75 years to 72 years. Under the existing Gujarat Lokayukta Act, 1986, the power of selection and appointment of new Lokayukta had been vested with the governor, chief justice of the high court and leader of opposition.

The bill was passed amidst walkout by the Congress members led by Leader of Opposition Shankersinh Vaghela.

The new legislation would effectively frustrate the appointment of Justice (Retd) R.A. Mehta, by Governor Kamla Beniwal. The appointment was resisted by Chief Minister Narendra Modi right from the day one. Incidentally, Justice Mehta is already 75 years old.

The Gujarat government had travelled right up to the apex court to question the powers of the governor in appointing the Lokayukta. Having lost in the apex court, the state government has now moved a curative petition.

The apex court while upholding the appointment of Justice Mehta, had ruled that opinion of the state chief justice would hold primacy in recommending the name of the Lokayukta.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) defended the bill, saying the chief minister will come under in its ambit while the Congress accused the party of “double standards” and creating obstacles in the appointment of Lokayukta.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said that the Gujarat Lokayukta bill had provided for creation of multi-member body in accordance with suggestions of central government.

She said the new bill “will not disturb appointment of Justice Mehta” and added that the chief minister will be in the ambit of the bill.

She rejected suggestions that the bill had taken away powers of governor.

“The governor will work as per advice of cabinet. Hope there will be informed debate on the bill,” she said.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari however accused the BJP of double standards on the issue of fighting corruption and said it had delayed appointment of Lokayukta in Gujarat.

“The party, which is not tired of singing praises for Lokpal in Delhi, that has not appointed Lokayukta in Gujarat for the last 10 years. Whenever the governor tried to appoint Lokayukta, there were all attempts to create road blocks,” he said.

BJP leaders said nagarpalikas and panchayats had been brought in the ambit of Lokayukta as in accordance with stipulation for release of funds.

They said the state governor had returned the Gujarat Lokayukta (amendment) bill in 2011 which sought to cover mayors, deputy mayors, senior functionaries of municipalities and sarparnches in its ambit saying that a Lokayukta will not be able to look into complaints against such a large number of functionaries.

The Lokayukta had been made multi-member to address concern of the governor, they said.

Referring to criticism about exclusion of governor from the selection process, BJP leaders said that the apex court in its judgment in the Gujarat Lokayukta case had slammed the governor for “misjudging her role”.

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