Exceeding powers

The courts cannot usurp executive powers.

The unreasonable, and possibly even deliberate, delay in the appointment of Lokayukta in Karnataka to succeed Justice Shivaraj Patil who resigned last September, is highly condemnable. The BJP government, whose former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa and a number of party MLAs have been arraigned before the Lokayukta on various charges, has been dodging the issue despite severe criticism from many quarters. Acting on a public interest litigation seeking early appointment of Lokayukta, the Karnataka high court has been pressing the state government to appoint a new Lokayukta at the earliest. The court’s anxiety and proactive role in this regard is understandable. But the high court is perhaps overreaching its constitutional limits by issuing ‘warnings’ and ‘deadlines’ to the state government on a new appointment, when it is clearly not in its powers to do so.

The high court has to take some of the blame for the delay as in a recent judgment it sought to lay down fresh guidelines for the selection of Lokayukta and Upa Lokayukta, virtually taking away the powers from the hands of the executive and giving supremacy to the judiciary in the appointments. While in the existing Act, it is the chief minister who finalises the appointment of Lokayukta and Upa Lokayukta in consultation with five constitutional functionaries, including the Chief Justice, a division bench of the court in its new guidelines, had made the Chief Justice the final authority in the selection process. In our constitutional scheme of things, the courts can only interpret laws and cannot make laws, the law-making being the exclusive domain of the legislature. Nor can the courts usurp executive powers. This controversial judgement has been questioned by the state government in the Supreme Court and one has to await its verdict.

There is no doubt that the state Lokayukta has been one of the most active anti-corruption bodies in the country and under Justice Santosh Hegde, it demonstrated its ability to act as an effective bulwark against administrative malfeasance and looting of natural resources. If the indiscriminate mining, which led to environmental destruction and humongous corruption in the state over the last few years, has been brought to an end, a large part of the credit should go to the institution of Lokayukta. Therefore, the appointment of Lokayukta cannot brook further delay and everyone concerned should work together to make it a reality.

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