Kerala Legislative Assembly
Thiruvananthapuram: The introduction of the controversial Kerala Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to make the executive the appellate authority over reports by the Lok Ayukta, saw heated and spirited arguments akin to a court battle between the ruling Left front and the Congress-led UDF opposition in the state assembly on Tuesday.
Though the opposition vigorously argued against the introduction of the bill or it being sent to the subject committee, both were approved by the House.
Initially, there was a war of words between the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the state assembly V D Satheesan and state Law Minister P Rajeeve on whether the bill should be permitted to be introduced in the House, with the former terming the proposed amendment as unconstitutional and illegal, and the latter contending that the clause sought to be amended was unconstitutional.
Opposing the introduction of the bill, Satheesan claimed that the proposed amendment violated the Constitutional doctrine of separation of powers as it would lead to the executive encroaching upon the domain of the judiciary.
He also said that as no one can be allowed to be a judge in their own cause, allowing the amendment would result in the government sitting in appeal over reports against its own ministers.
Satheesan also said reports or decisions of the Lok Ayukta can be and were being challenged in the Kerala High Court.
He said it was "unfortunate" that such a bill was being introduced in the House as it would lead to taking away the "teeth and nails" of the Lok Ayukta.
Satheesan also claimed that the House cannot term a provision or statute enacted by it as unconstitutional and only a court of law can do so and it has been held so by the Supreme Court.
The LoP's contentions were opposed by Rajeeve who said that just because a retired judge was heading the Lok Ayukta does not make it a judicial body and that it was only an investigative body empowered to carry out enquiries and investigations into allegations of corruption.
The minister also said that there was no appellate provision against decision of the Lok Ayukta and pleas moved against its reports in the High Court were not appeals.
Rajeeve said that hearing of writs by the high court against Lok Ayukta reports or decisions was only an examination of the correctness of the decision making process and not the decision itself.
The minister said that a court steps in and declares a provision as unconstitutional only when the legislature is ineffective, which is not the case here.
During the spirited discussions, he also challenged Satheesan to show the phrase "judicial proceedings" anywhere in the Lok Ayukta Act and rising up to the challenge, the LoP pointed out provisions in the statute which contained that phrase.
After hearing the vigorously argued objections of the opposition and Rajeeve's response to the same, Speaker M B Rajesh ruled the objections do not stand as the assembly has the power to make changes to laws enacted by the legislature and allowed the bill to be introduced.
Thereafter, Rajeeve's proposal to send the bill to the subject committee was also opposed by the opposition which again led to heated arguments between both sides with the Chair finally ruling that the UDF's opposition against sending it to the subject committee stand rejected by the assembly by a show of hands.
Opposing sending of the bill to the subject committee, UDF MLA M Kuzhalnadan said the provision sought to be amended was being termed as unconstitutional by the ruling front 22 years later and after over 35,000 cases were dealt with by the Lok Ayukta.
He also said that even Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had praised the Lok Ayukta Act.
The legislator also said that the Lok Ayukta has contempt powers similar to the High Court.
LDF MLAs K T Jaleel and K K Shailaja said that the amendment was being sought to be brought in to ensure the defendant-accused also gets a chance to be heard as the Lok Ayukta in many cases has passed orders without hearing them.
After hearing submissions and counter-submissions of both sides, the Chair ruled that the bill can be sent to the subject committee. The bill was moved after the ordinance with the same provisions lapsed on August 8 for want of approval of the Kerala Governor.