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House nod to Lokayukta

- One CM trips, while another gets Opposition on board

Bhubaneswar, Feb. 14: When Arvind Kejriwal tripped as he struggled to table the Jan Lokpal Bill, hundreds of kilometres away from the chaos the Naveen Patnaik government managed to take the Opposition along in passing the legislation that will give Odisha a Lokayukta.

The Opposition also scored a major victory as it made the state government amend the bill and bring the vigilance and crime branch police under the purview of the proposed Lokayukta.

The bill has been sent for the governor’s assent.

The six-member Lokayukta will have the powers to inquire into allegations of corruption against the chief minister, former chief ministers, ministers, former ministers, all elected representatives and the state government employees. The proposed legislation also provided that the governor could remove a member of the Lokayukta from office on the grounds of misbehaviour after the high court made an inquiry in it.

Twenty-five MLAs can move a petition against a member of the Lokayukta listing allegations of misbehaviour. The governor has also been empowered to take action against the members on specified grounds.

The BJD said Odisha was the first state to bring in a legislation to set up the institution. “Chief minister Naveen Patnaik had decided to this effect two days after the presidential assent was given on the Lokpal Bill passed by Parliament,” said parliamentary affairs minister Kalpataru Das.

However, leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh said protection was not given in the legislation to whistle-blowers. Congress chief whip Prasad Harichandan said there was no provision in the bill for suo motu cognisance by the Lokayukta to corruption charges against any public servant. The Lokayukta would become “toothless” unless the state vigilance organisation was made independent from the control of the state government.

Das said some of the amendments moved by the Opposition could not be accepted due to time constraints. “If necessary, amendments can be made in future,” he said.

The government agreed to the Opposition-sponsored amendment to include the state vigilance and the crime branch in the provision related to the powers of Lokayukta for superintendence and direction over the investigating agency.

It also conceded to the amendment given by the Opposition to reduce the number of MLAs required to submit from 35 to 25 in respect of removal of the Lokayukta chairperson or any other member.

However, the amendments given by the Opposition for making provisions that the accounts of Lokayukta shall be audited by the accountant general every two years and that the Lokayukta shall not entertain any complaint made after 10 years instead of seven years were rejected by the government.

Other amendments, which were incorporated yesterday, were that the minimum age for Lokayukta members was increased from 45 years to 50 years and one of the three non-judicial members of the six-member body would be from SC, ST, women or minority community. The post will be filled up on a rotation basis.

According to the legislation, apart from the chairperson, a serving or a retired Chief Justice of a high court, will have five members, including three non-judicial members. People with impeccable integrity and having expertise of not less than 20 years in public administration, finance, including insurance and banking, law, anti-corruption-policy or management will be selected as non-judicial members.

The chairperson or a member shall not hold any office of trust or profit or shall not be connected with any political party and shall not carry on any business or profession.

The chairperson and members will be appointed by the governor on the recommendation of a selection committee headed by the chief minister. Assembly Speaker, leader of Opposition, Chief Justice of the high court or his nominee and an eminent jurist nominated by the governor would be other members of the committee.