Welcome changes in Lokayukta Act

Lokayukta's independence should be fully ensured

The Karnataka legislature has done well to amend the Lokayukta Act, simplifying the procedure for the removal of the incumbent from the position. The issue had come into the focus in view of the growing demand for the removal of Justice Y Bhaskar Rao, the present Lokayukta, after his son’s name figured prominently in the extortion racket run from the ombudsman’s office.  The process for removal of the Lokayukta was difficult under the original law. The challenge was to make it easier while protecting the independence and high stature of the office. A via media has been arrived at after debates in the legislature. After the amendment, the Lokayukta can now be removed if the legislature passes a motion for it with a two-thirds majority after the chief justice of the Karnataka High Court finds the incumbent guilty of misconduct or incapacity.

The government had tried to take advantage of the controversy surrounding the Lokayukta to weaken the office by diluting its powers. The Siddaramaiah government had, in a draft of the amendment bill, proposed doing away with the grievance redressal powers of the Lokayukta. These powers are crucial for the institution for acting on grievances from the public. Watering them down would have debilitated the office. The draft had also proposed curbing the Lokayukta’s power to prosecute ministers and MLAs.The idea was to shift these powers to the legislature. These would have weakened the Lokayukta which had emerged as a strong institution that protected public interest and acted against corrupt officials. The government was forced to drop these proposals after they met with strong criticism. However, it still proposed that the Lokayukta could be removed with a simple majority of the legislature.

This also would have made the office vulnerable as governments could easily muster that majority. The requirement of a two-thirds majority for removal makes the tenure of the Lokayukta more secure. The Lokayukta should actually be strengthened further with more powers and its independence should be fully ensured. Justice Bhaskar Rao should resign even at this late stage and if he doesn’t, he should be removed. He has done damage to the office he holds and brought disrepute to the judiciary by sticking to the office even after his son was arrested on extortion charges. There should also be a new transfer policy for the Lokayukta staff to ensure that they do not stay put in the office for many years. A police official who has been arrested for his involvement in the scam served in the Lokayukta office continuously for 18 years.

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