- The Kerala government has recently proposed to amend the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act with an ordinance, a move that has drawn criticism from the opposition.
What change has been proposed?
- The cabinet has recommended to the Governor that he promulgate the ordinance, which proposes to give the government powers to “either accept or reject the verdict of the Lokayukta, after giving an opportunity of being heard”. Currently, under Section 14 of the Act, a public servant is required to vacate office if directed by the Lokayukta.
How was the Lokayukta Act originally envisaged?
- The central Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 was notified on January 1, 2014. The law was a result of demands of several decades for stronger anti-corruption laws.
- The Act provides for establishing a Lokpal headed by a Chairperson, who is or has been a Chief Justice of India, or is or has been a judge of the Supreme Court, or an eminent person who fulfils eligibility criteria as specified. Of its other members, not exceeding eight, 50% are to be judicial members, provided that not less than 50% belong to the SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities, or are women.
- The Lokpal and Lokayukta are to deal with complaints against public servants, a definition that includes the Lokpal chairperson and members. The Lokpal was appointed in 2019 and it started functioning since March 2020 when its rules were framed.
How does it work in the states?
- Lokayuktas are the state equivalents of the central Lokpal. Section 63 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 states: “Every state shall establish a body to be known as the Lokayukta for the State, if not so established, constituted or appointed, by a law made by the State Legislature, to deal with complaints relating to corruption against certain public functionaries, within a period of one year from the date of commencement of this Act.”
- Originally, the central legislation was envisaged to make a Lokayukta in each state mandatory. However, certain political parties argued that this would be against the spirit of federalism. The law then created a mere framework, leaving it to the states to decide the specifics.
Which states have Lokayuktas?
- When the 2013 Act was passed, Lokayuktas were already functioning in some states — including in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka where they were very active. Following the Act and the intervention of the Supreme Court, most states have now set up a Lokayukta.
- However, given that states have autonomy to frame their own laws, the Lokayukta’s powers vary from state to state on various aspects, such as tenure, and need of sanction to prosecute officials.
- For example, last year, Bihar passed a law that sought to punish people filing false cases before the Lokayukta. The offence would carry a jail-term of up to three years. The move was criticised on the ground that it could be misused against whistle-blowers.