Chief Minister’s ‘fear’, Justice Minister’s ‘illegal’ statement and Chennithala’s absence

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Thiruvananthapuram: Opposition leader VD Satheesan said on Monday that it was fear that drove the LDF government to drastically weaken Kerala Lokayukta. “Why are you so scared just because there are four cases against you (in the Lokayukta),” Satheesan asked Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan during an adjournment motion in the Assembly on the issue of Lokayukta amendment. “Fear rules you,” he said.

Congressman Sunny Joseph, who moved the adjournment motion, referred to the 2019 Chief Minister’s article in Chintha Magazine in which he proudly stated that the Kerala Ombudsman, unlike other other states, could not only bark but also bite. “What made you change your way of thinking (chintha) so suddenly,” Sunny Joseph said.

Satheesan said the chief minister reconsidered “after the Lokayukta used their sharp teeth to bite a man”. A clear reference to former Higher Education Minister KT Jaleel who had to resign after Lokayukta accused him of nepotism.

The leader of the opposition said that on the one hand the judiciary had had its teeth pulled and on the other its image was tarnished. “Jaleel had relentlessly sought to diminish the LDF government appointed Lokayukta. But not once did the government step in to restrain Jaleel,” Satheesan said. “It is obvious that Jaleel’s attack on Lokayukta was with the blessing of the government,” he added.

Justice Minister P Rajeev, who responded to the motion, argued that the original Lokayukta law passed by the EK Nayanar ministry in 1999 did not adhere to constitutional principles. He said it went against Section 164 of the Constitution which stated that a minister remained in office at the “good pleasure of the governor”.

The Leader of the Opposition argued that section 164 was not absolute. “If a member is disqualified under the Representation of the People Act, can he remain in office at the pleasure of the governor,” Satheesan said. Furthermore, he stated that a minister could not proceed if a writ of quo warranto was filed. He said the Supreme Court had ruled that a writ of quo warranto was maintainable on Section 164 in the Jayalalitha case. The former Tamil Nadu chief minister had been sworn in as chief minister when she was sentenced to a three-year prison term.

Satheesan called “illegal” the justice minister’s claim that Lokayukta’s original law was unconstitutional. “No one except the courts has the power to say that a law passed by the legislative body was unconstitutional. There is a presumption of constitutionality. Any law passed by a legislative body or Parliament is constitutional”, he said.

By saying the law was unconstitutional, Satheesan said the minister was setting a dangerous precedent. “He was actually telling the public that there was no need to obey the law,” he said.

If previously the Lokayukta recommendation was binding on the government, the Lokayukta Amendment Ordinance, 2022 removes that power. The competent authority can now hold a hearing on the findings of the Lokayukta and reject or accept its recommendations. “If you don’t accept the findings of Lokayukta, why can’t you just dissolve it,” Satheesan said.

However, former opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala was conspicuously absent. Chennithala had earlier said he would move a resolution calling for the ordinance to be withdrawn, but it did not find favor in Congress. The congressional leadership was bitter that Chennithala was an arbitrary decision made without consulting senior congressional brass.

Justice Minister Rajeev rubbed it off saying the adjournment motion was moved to undermine Chennithala.

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