An Ordinance was brought after a hurried Cabinet meet in which the CM took part via video conferencing from the US.


New Delhi: It is now confirmed. The Kerala Lokayukta can’t bite anymore, at best it is allowed to bark once in a while. It took 23 long years—and some corruption charges against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan about to come up for hearing—for the ruling CPM to realise that the anti-corruption body in the state “infringes upon the rights of the Cabinet” and is “against Articles 163 and 164 of the Constitution of India”. So it brought out an Ordinance after a hurried Cabinet meeting in which the Chief Minister took part via video conferencing from the US where he was undergoing treatment and dispatched it to the governor for approval. All this was done with barely three weeks for the Assembly session to begin and some crucial cases against the CM coming up before the Lokayukta. Now, despite all the hullabaloo raised by the Opposition, Governor Arif Mohammed Khan tamely put his signature on the Kerala Lokayukta (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022, which now empowers the state government to either accept or reject the declaration by the anti-corruption agency in the cases finding those holding public office as guilty. The Governor, Chief Minister or the state government would be the competent authority and he or it may either accept or reject the declaration, after giving an opportunity of being heard, according to the ordinance notified in the gazette this mid-week. The notification made it clear that the ordinance was accorded sanction as the state Assembly was not in session and the Governor was satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action.
The move is generally seen as an attempt to avoid any embarrassment to the Left Front government, and Pinarayi Vijayan in particular, over five cases that are currently under the consideration of the anti-graft ombudsman of which three are directly concerning the chief minister. The three concerns arbitrary allocation of funds from the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF). 1) A petition questioning granting of Rs 25 lakhs from CMDRF for the education of Nationalist Congress Party’s, a partner in the LDF, state president Uzhavoor Vijayan’s daughter following his death. 2) Petition against spending from CMDRF Rs 8 lakhs to take back mortgaged gold belonging to CPM legislator K.K. Ramachandran Nair following his death and also another Rs 6 lakhs to repay his car loan. 3) Granting Rs 20 lakh from the CMDRF to the family of a policeman killed in an accident in which the pilot car of state CPM secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was involved. This amount was apart from other rightful benefits of the policeman’s family. There was a precedent during the last Pinarayi government where in the then Higher Education Minister K.T. Jaleel had to resign following a ruling from the same Lokayukta which found him guilty of nepotism. The CPM naturally feared that it may have to follow the same precedent in case the chief minister is found guilty in any of the three counts. In fact, the current Lokayukta Cyriac Thomas was handpicked by Pinarayi Vijayan only, so need not have worried much. Party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishan had tried to justify the amendment saying the BJP government at the Centre may try to topple the LDF government through the Lokayukta. He had conveniently forgotten that in the new amended version, the BJP could still force a crisis for the government as the Governor has the right to decide on cases against the chief minister.

The Act existing before the amended ordinance passed during the tenure of another LDF government led by then Marxist veteran, the late E.K. Nayanar in 1999, had bestowed the Lokayukta or an Upa Lokayukta to make a declaration in its report that a public servant against whom a complaint is made should not continue to hold that post if the allegation is substantiated. “Where the competent authority is the governor, the government of Kerala or the CM, he or it shall accept the declaration,” it had stated. It is this portion of the law, which makes a verdict binding on the government that now stands amended. It now reads: “Where the competent authority is the Governor, or the Chief Minister or the Government of Kerala, he or it may either accept, or reject the declaration, after giving an opportunity of being heard.” In other cases, the competent authority shall send a copy of such a report to the Government which may either accept or reject the declaration after giving an opportunity of being heard, the notification said. This means the chief minister will be judging whether his own minister is guilty or not!
Earlier, it was mandatory that the Lokayukta should be a retired judge of the Supreme Court or a chief justice of the High Court. Now it has been decided that a judge of the high court can be nominated to the position. This opens an avenue for the ruling party to appoint persons close to it. “It is a ploy to find jobs for retired judges, either sympathetic towards the party or were active party workers before taking up the judicial responsibility,” said one observer. As it is there are a handful of them heading various commissions which are neither effective nor working, except for enjoying the perks that go with the post. A glaring example to this is the commission which was appointed by the previous Pinarayi government to enquire into the central investigation agencies that were probing the involvement of the Chief Ministers office in the infamous gold smuggling case and the subsequent corruption cases that had cropped up during investigation. It is a known fact that the concerned judge was a prominent SFI activist in his college days and no one knows what his job is all about, except that he is seen in different parts of the state visiting friends and relatives in his official state vehicle accompanied by a gunman and other security paraphernalia.
The greatest irony is that it was CPM which had in the past vociferously argued for bringing prime ministers and chief ministers under the ambit of the Lokpal/Lokayukta. Pinarayi Vijayan had in the past wanted a “biting” Lokayukta and not just a barking one.
In a 2019 article in CPM mouthpiece “Chintha” Vijayan had written: “If needed our Lokayukta system has the ability to bite…The Lokayukta Act is an example of the LDF government’s strong commitment towards ending corruption and misrule.” His turnaround is seen as a climbdown to hold on to power. The CPI, the other communist party in the front, had tried to raise some objections, but was promptly silenced by the Big Brother. The very credibility of CPM is at stake.