Draft bill will dilute ombudsman’s powers, critics fear; will take legal opinion, says law minister. The State government appears to have indefinitely postponed introducing the Karnataka Lokayukta Bill, 2014, in the legislature, although the Cabinet has approved it in principle. But several cosmetic changes are expected in the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984, sources in the Lokayukta said.
The draft bill, which is considered equivalent to the Lokpal Act, 2013, passed by the UPA government — except for some minor changes — has been criticised on the ground that it “dilutes” the institution of the Lokayukta.
The draft bill proposes a Lokayukta with nine members on its panel and a parallel body called the State Vigilance Commission. While the Lokayukta will be a retired judge of the Supreme Court or Chief Justice of the High Court, half of the members of the panel will be former HC judges and the rest government officers having 25 years of experience in anti-corruption policies.
The commission, on the other hand, will comprise only three senior IAS officers, retired or serving.
The State Police Vigilance Establishment, basically comprising the Lokayukta police, will be subservient to both the bodies. The provision in the draft bill that the police wing would be under the “supervision and administrative control” of the commission has been criticised the most.
Critics have also questioned the rationale behind having State Vigilance Commission which can encroach on the Lokayukta’s powers. Going by the criticism, the government has deemed it fit to “postpone” introducing the draft bill.
“We did try to introduce the bill, which has been approved in principle by the Cabinet. But after the media and eminent personalities criticised it, fearing the Lokayukta’s powers will be diluted, we have decided to withhold the draft bill for now,” Law Minister T B Jayachandra told Deccan Herald.
The law minister insisted that the government was in “no hurry” and was only trying to strengthen the draft bill by taking into consideration all legal opinions and concerns before introducing it in the legislature. Jayachandra, however, asserted that introducing a new Lokayukta bill would not be a problem, although a Lokayukta Act exists at present.
This apart, Lokayukta sources suggest, the government is looking to appoint an IAS officer the Lokayukta registrar. The post is currently held by a legal luminary.
Among the registrar’s powers and duties are that he/she acts as the controlling officer of the budget and administration of the Karnataka Lokayukta. He/she can entrust departmental inquiry cases to inquiry officers working in the Lokayukta.