If many thought they saw the Lok Ayukta of Kerala playing April Fool a day before April 1, they would not be mistaken. The verdict given by the two-member Bench, consisting of Lok Ayukta, Justice Cyriac Joseph, and Up-Lok Ayukta, Justice Harun-Ul-Rashid, was mind-boggling. It was more than one year since the Bench heard the case that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his Cabinet colleagues misused their authority while making payments to the families of two MLAs who died of natural causes and a police officer who died in an accident while escorting a CPM leader. Huge sums of money were sanctioned from the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund. The complainant alleged that it was a misuse of the fund meant for the poor. He wanted the members of the previous Cabinet to be penalised. Pinarayi Vijayan is the only person who remains in the Cabinet now.
Prima-facie, it was an open-and-shut kind of case that could be decided quickly. Of course, there was the question whether a Cabinet decision could be adjudicated. The point is that the two-member Bench had heard both sides and a decision was deferred. Finally, the complainant had to approach the Kerala High Court for redressal of his grievance. It was only when the court took cognisance of the delay that the Lok Ayukta was forced to announce its verdict.
Instead of giving its verdict, the two judges, one of whom served as a judge of the Supreme Court, said there was a difference of opinion among them about whether they could hear the case. Hence they decided to refer the case to a full Bench, consisting of the Lok Ayukta and two up-Lok Ayuktas. The implication is that the full Bench will take a few more years to hear the case. By then, Pinarayi Vijayan would have completed his second term making the case infructuous. If someone believes that the verdict was the result of an understanding between the Lok Ayukta and the government, he could not be blamed. In any case, the institution has suffered a loss of credibility which cannot be regained easily. There is a common saying that justice delayed is Justice denied. In this case, the Lok Ayukta has only itself to blame. The judges concerned have no stake as they hold these posts after their retirement from service. This even raises the question whether it is proper to re-employ retired judges.
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