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Gujarat's law unto itself

Sep 30 2013, 09:31 IST
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SummaryIf the Gujarat Lokayukta Aayog Bill becomes law, it will reduce the lokayukta’s independence and create inequalities among states

If the Gujarat Lokayukta Aayog Bill becomes law, it will reduce the lokayukta’s independence and create inequalities among states

With the Lokpal bill meeting the fate of the women’s reservation bill, the lokayukta remains, in many states of the Indian Union, the only ombudsman in charge of fighting corruption among the politicians and the functionaries. But this most useful institution remains fragile, as its trajectory in Gujarat testifies.

The Gujarat Lokayukta Act introduced it in the state in 1986 (15 years after Maharashtra, which played a pioneering role in that domain). According to this act, the lokayukta is appointed by the governor after consulting the chief justice of the state high court. The first lokayukta of Gujarat, S.M. Soni, resigned in 2003. Three years later, in 2006, the chief justice of the Gujarat High Court approved the candidature of Justice K.R. Vyas, whose name had been suggested by the government of Gujarat. The year after, Justice Vyas was appointed chairman of the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission. In September 2009, the governor of Gujarat returned the file recommending the appointment of Justice Vyas as lokayukta, claiming that the man was not available for the job. In November 2009, Kamla Beniwal took charge as the new governor and soon asked the chief justice to put together a panel of personalities qualified for selecting the names of people who could become lokayukta.

The Gujarat government went to the court, claiming that the governor could not take any initiative in this matter, but only follow the recommendations of the council of ministers. The court agreed and Narendra Modi, therefore, in February 2010, asked the chief justice to suggest four names. Among them, the council of ministers supported the name of Justice J.R. Vora. Opponents of the chief minister objected that Vora had been preferred because, as a member of a division bench of the Gujarat High Court, he had upheld the verdict of the Vadodara fast-track court acquitting all the accused involved in the Best Bakery case of 2002 — many of whom were to be sentenced to years of jail after the Supreme Court transferred the case to Mumbai.

Then the governor asked the attorney general whether the procedure that had been followed was right and the latter objected that only one name should have been recommended, something the government of Gujarat rejected, but that the SC upheld. Then, Beniwal asked the chief justice

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